In which Annie (high school teacher, mother of two young girls and a younger boy) and her aunt Deborah (children's bookseller, mother of two young women in their 20s) discuss children's books and come up with annotated lists.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Chick Lit, Part 3: Joan Bauer

Dear Annie,

I'm getting all enthusiastic about reading more L'Engle. Haven't thought of putting her and chick lit in the same sentence before.

I wanted to add another author to our chick lit list today: Joan Bauer.  My favorite of her books is
Rules of the Road
, about a sixteen year-old girl who takes a summer job driving an elderly woman from Chicago to Texas. The woman is the owner of a shoe company and her son is scheming to take over the business and cut corners in unpleasant ways.  Jenna starts the book working in one of the company's stores, with a joie de shoes that goes through the book:
I leaped onto the sliding ladder in the back room of Gladstone's Shoe Store of Chicago, gave it a shove, and glided fast toward the end of the floor to ceiling shelves of shoeboxes. My keen retailer's eye found the chocolate loafers, size 13, I slid the ladder to the Nikes, grabbed two boxes of easy walkers (white and beige) size 4 1/2 narrow, pushed again to women's saddles, found the waxhides, size 7, rode the ladder to the door one-handed. Children, do not try this at home. I am a shoe professional.
I think of this as a coming of age book with a sense of humor and without a love interest.  During the trip and events surrounding the takeover struggle, Jenna grows up and gains confidence in lovely ways.  She's helped along by the cranky Mrs. Gladstone and a handful of Mrs. G's elderly pals.  Bauer balances humor and intense parent-child conflicts throughout the book.  She always puts a capital-I Issue in her books.  In this one, Jenna's father is an alcoholic who's spiraling downward.  Part of Jenna's growing up is her learning to stand up to him.  There's also an older shoe salesman who's in AA, the if-only character.

I also love that her summer of discovering herself doesn't involve discovering a boy.  At one point, Mrs. G's friend Alice gives Jenna a haircut and a new dress and she briefly flirts with a young man.  Then she moves on, feeling good and not needy.

Bauer has a new book out this spring,
Close to Famous
, aimed more at the middle-grade crowd. Foster, the protagonist, is 12 years old and wants to be a famous TV chef. She's constantly inventing new muffins and cupcakes, even as she and her mother escape the mother's abusive boyfriend (an Elvis impersonator) and move to a small town full of endearing but stock small-town characters. The Issues in this one are spousal abuse and (separately) illiteracy. But again the book has to do with a girl understanding her own self-worth. I like this writer.




  1. I read Rules of the Road for a class on YA Lit in library school and loved it!

  2. I discovered Joan Bauer when I was teaching eighth grade and she is great. But I have to say I'm so happy to see Annie's effusive post about Madeleine L'Engle -- I too have read everything she's ever written and I adore her. (And Annie, I'm eager for that post about Cynthia Voigt, another favorite of mine.)

  3. I'm just sitting down to post about Voigt now....