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Rules of the Road
by Joan Bauer
From the author of Hope Was Here comes this acclaimed 1998 book about 16-year-old Jenna Boller, who knows a lot about selling shoes and a little about driving. On these qualifications she gets the unasked-for job of driving Mrs. Gladstone, the President of the shoe-store chain she works for, from Chicago to Dallas for the big shareholders’ meeting. And though her mother isn’t keen on letting Jenna go, the fact that her alcoholic father has come back to town ensures that she needs some time away.
So Jenna gets behind the wheel of a big white Cadillac and sets off on a journey to learn a lot about the road, the shoe industry, personal grief, and the strength to fight back against adversity. Jenna has enough adversity in her own young life: a grandmother with Alzeimer’s disease, a much prettier younger sister who depends on Jenna too much, and, of course, her drunk father. Poor Mrs. Gladstone has problems too: a hip that needs replacing, a son who wants to push her out of the company, and a legacy of selling quality shoes for a fair price to protect.
Jenna also meets a brassy retired shoe model, a heroic super-shoe-salesman, and a lot of other people from the stranger who performs random acts of kindness to the backstabbing heir, Eldon, who wants to sell out. Turning shoe spy, she sniffs out good and bad sales practices in stores from Peoria to Shreveport. And she also gets a beauty makeover and a firm push toward womanhood, not to mention lessons in corporate warfare and in coping with her father’s alcoholism.
Narrated with cleverness and spunk, emotionally rich, this is a very satisfying young-adult novel and also an educational look at the shoe industry: a world unfamiliar to most of us, so that it almost qualifies as “fantasy.” But it’s a very truthful fantasy, nonetheless.