Sixteen-year-old Jenna gets a job driving the elderly owner of a chain of successful shoe stores from Chicago to Texas to confront the son who is trying to force her to retire, and along the way Jenna hones her talents as a saleswoman and finds the strength to face her alcoholic father.
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This is where the road trip comes in. Madeline Gladstone hires Jenna to be her chauffer and drive her around the country visiting different outlets of her store. Jenna isn't thrilled to spend her summer with her elderly boss or away from her family, but wants the money and to get away from her drunk father.
The characters are all really wonderful. They all have strengths, talents, and weaknesses that get revealed as the plot advances. All of the characters get better - for example, Jenna's sister Faith is sort of shallow and little kid-ish when we first meet her, but she grows up a lot and becomes bearable to be around. Mrs. Gladstone reveals weaknesses despite her stubbornness. Jenna learns a lot about herself, the world, selling shoes, and her father on her road trip. The only central character who I hated through the entire book is Mrs. Gladstone's son, Elden - he's just a selfish, scheming jerk.
I really like Jenna. She's not beautiful, perfect, or super talented, but she's loveable. She cares about people and shoes, and is capable - she manages to take her drunken father away from her workplace all by herself, despite her own mental distress at seeing him again. She regularly visits her grandmother who has Alzheimer’s disease and helps her remember by telling her about memories and taking her to do her favorite things. She protects her little sister from her drunken father, and is able to deal despite her mother's confusing working hours. Jenna's strong, intelligent, and fun to read about.
I think Joan Bauer must be really good at showing people what's desirable about certain professions because she described Jenna's commitment to selling shoes that are good for the buyer - sturdy, good quality, good for their feet, etc. I think it's really cool.
While road trips are normally about the places you go, Jenna and Mrs. Gladstone's is about the people you meet, the things you learn, and the actions you take.
Jenna has a job selling shoes at Gladstone’s, a purveyor of quality shoes that is about to be sold to a big company more interested in sales than soles, as Jenna would say. Her aged and wealthy boss, Mrs. Madeline Gladstone, hires Jenna to drive her from Chicago down to Dallas to attend the stockholders meeting at which Mrs. Gladstone will try to stop the takeover, even though it is spearheaded by her own son, Elden. The trip takes six weeks, since Mrs. Gladstone wants to stop and inspect stores along the way. Jenna helps out by pretending to be a customer so she can make “stealth” evaluations for Mrs. Gladstone.
When they reach Dallas, Jenna gets to meet the top shoe salesman in the country, Harry Bender. Bender, who is a recovered alcoholic, takes her under his wing and teaches her about caring, not just for others, but also for herself. By the time Jenna has arrived home, she has changed quite a bit, but so has her family: “We’d all been on journeys this summer.”
Discussion: Bauer, herself the daughter of an alcoholic, provides an excellent portrait of the family dynamics that ensue from living with an alcoholic. She shows us the pain, the coping mechanisms, the hopes and the dashed hopes, and yet manages not to paint too maudlin a picture. Moreover, she also gives a sympathetic and loving description of what happens with Alzheimer’s disease. Jenna, like the character Hope in Bauer’s later book Hope Was Here, is constantly trying to find the bright side, and yet not cloyingly so. Her problems don’t go away, but the way she deals with them undergoes a big change as she matures and gains confidence.
Evaluation: This is a warm book that will inspire other young teens dealing with problems to be survivors. Jenna’s motto is to focus, both on what really matters in life, and on solutions to problems rather than on dwelling on the negatives. Bauer is an optimist, but her optimism is grounded in real hardships. Her message, that these trials can make you stronger instead of knocking you down, is a great one for teens.
Critique: Rules of the Road was a great book. I honestly enjoyed reading this well-written story. I felt I could truly relate to Jenna and all the responsibilities put on young people. My 14 year old daughter is now reading it. I hope she enjoys it as much as I did.
Curriculum Uses: It is a good book that could be used for enjoyment or leisure reading. It could be recommended to children going through a rough time with a variety of problems.
As the oldest child of an alcoholic father, Jenna has learned the games involved, the lies, the deceit and the shame. She has learned all too
Working as a shoe sales person in Gladstone Shoes, when the owner and elderly Mrs. Gladstone requests that Jeanna drive her throughout the country to some of her shoe stores, Jenna gladly accepts the challenge of life on the road behind the wheel of a large Cadillac.
Meeting a host of likeable characters who together work to defeat Mrs. Gladstone's slimy son who attempts to take over the company.
When Jenna returns home, she is richer for the journey and is able to confront her father. Sadly, as is the case with some with addictions, daddy loves the bottle more than his family.
Jenna learns to put a stop sign in front of the man who has harmed her and her father.