When I Hit the Road, by Nancy J. Cavanaugh, (May 2020, Sourcebooks Young Readers), $16.99, ISBN: 9781492640257
Samantha is about to be a seventh grader, has a mother and older sisters who are over-achievers, and desperately wants to make her own mark on something. She ends up with a summer vacation she wasn’t quite expecting: accompanying her workaholic mother to her grandmother’s Florida condo, and journaling in her “Dear Me” journal to promote her mom’s company. What ends up happening is even less expected: Mom has to rush home, leaving Sam in Florida, where she ends up on a karaoke road trip with her grandmother, her grandmother’s best friend, and a really, really cute boy.
I love Nancy J. Cavanaugh’s books because they’re created to read in easily readable, fun, descriptive bursts: journal entries, lists, letters; she has a gift for a tween voice, and writes with a light, funny voice that puts readers at ease and invites introspection. She plays with her multigenerational characters; in this case, giving readers a karaoke-loving senior citizen and a tween who feels the pressure to be someone, constantly measuring herself up against those around her. The road trip is wacky and wonderful – thrift store bowling shirts, a car full of Bibles, a tour of terrifying road stop bathrooms – and will make readers laugh out loud, especially if they’ve had the dubious honor of being on the dreaded Family Road Trip. Sam’s voice comes through clearly, and I loved her referencing her future self looking back and reading the entries.
Ms. Cavanaugh navigates complex mother-daughter relationships here, too: we have the relationship between Sam’s mother and grandmother, Sam and her grandmother, and Sam and her own overachieving mother, all of which are loaded with moments for deep discussion. This would be a great choice for a mother-daughter book club.
Turn up some karaoke (YouTube has dozens of pages, including Sing King), bake some cookies, and enjoy an evening with Sam and her family. This is a great read for tweens who want a fun read with a summery vibe.
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