51. Rules of the Road
by Joan Bauer
young adult fiction, 1998
My friend Judi recommended this book to me, and I am so grateful. It is an absolute gem of a book. It is well-written; it tells a good story; and though there are serious situations, there is still a touch of humor. Jenna is sixteen years old. She lives with her mother and sister. Her mother kicked her father out several years ago when she could no longer take his drunken behavior. There is nothing gross in the book, no abuse, but we do see what life is like for the children of alcoholics.
Dad was never a mean drunk, you could put him places, lean him against things and he'd pretty much stay put. That helped when I was smaller and I had to put him places when Mom had had enough.
Father's Day is my least favorite holiday. I can never find the right card. I can't send the "Dad, I can always count on you" ones; I nix "Thanks for everything" and "You're the greatest." What the world needs is an alternative card: "Dad, I love you, even though you haven't been there for me."
I remember that stairway more than my room. That's where I'd sit and watch when my father would come home drunk. I'd hear the car pull up, the door slam shut, Dad clear his throat, spit on the sidewalk. I'd climb out of bed and huddle on the landing. I don't know why. He'd slam through the door, grab at the striped wall to keep standing. Mom would meet him or not, depending. Once he saw me watching from the landing, sitting on the hope chest in my nightgown.One of the saddest things about her father's situation is that he will never know how much Jenna really learned from him in his sober moments. She is an excellent saleswoman because of what he, a salesman, taught her. Rules of the Road celebrates what I've talked about before - that the so-called 'little' jobs are very important. Jenna works in a shoe store, Gladstone's, the kind we don't see many of anymore. When I was a girl there were two in my little town of 5000. Now there are none. You can buy your shoes at sporting equipment stores or clothing/ski shops but no one helps the buyer.
"Whatch you looking at?" he shouted and then vomited on the rug.
There are none of those black metal shoe measurerers that were so familiar in my childhood.
As I read the book and thought about this, I began to wonder about them. I did some searching and found out it is called a Brannock device after the man who invented it. And you may buy your own personal one! The price may seem steep but honestly, it could be worth it. I'm thinking I might. I'm sick of my shoes not being a perfect fit.
My gosh, when you go looking around the internet you can find all kinds of things. Apparently last year the Brannock device was on the Jimmy Fallon show. Amazing.
There are lots of jokes and discussions about foot fetishes but this book shows the importance of good shoes. The famous yoga instructor, Lilias Folan says when the feet hurt the whole body hurts. Rules of the Road is filled with shoe knowledge. Jenna says:
... [I] got her two teenage daughters out of spiked heels when I showed them that they were both developing hammer toe - a condition that causes the little toe to become curled up and sore from too-tight shoes - got them both into a lower cushioning heel.Before she started working Jenna had a week-long training course, and she learned:
that bones of the feet make up approximately one fourth of all the bones in the body, that the feet are one of the most frequently injured parts of the body. I understood that the average individual will walk about 115,000 miles in their lifetime, which is more than four times the earth's circumference, and came to the rapid conclusion that selling well-made comfortable shoes is a noble profession, providing immeasurable benefits for people the world over.Jenna is a natural, and this fact is noticed by the owner of Gladstone's Shoes.
You remind me of myself when I was a girl.Because of this, Mrs. Gladstone hires Jenna to drive her from Chicago to the headquarters of Gladstone's Shoes in Dallas for the stockholders meeting. Naturally Jenna's mother is reluctant to let her daughter attempt such a trip after having her license for only six months, but her father is back in town, calling at all hours and showing up drunk at the shoe store. Jenna's mom sees that this is a good way for her older daughter to get away from the situation for a while.
You have an unusual knack for appreciating the customer's needs.
And so the road trip begins. As with all such journeys, much is learned along the way about life and about oneself. Jenna meets a man who has changed his life after joining AA, and wishes her own dad would do the same. Mrs. Gladstone relies on Jenna's expertise as they visit some of the Gladstone stores along the way. We see a phenomenon that comes up quite often in books - that of what I call the 'soul' child. Sometimes one's own child is not necessarily the true heir to a business or home. Sometimes it is a completely unrelated person who shares one's beliefs and goals. In this case, Mrs. Gladstone's son wants to sell out to a chain.
Mother, this is how business is done now. It's not the same world you and Dad knew. The shoe business is changing and Gladstone's has to change with it to survive.There is some suspense for the reader wondering just how all this will turn out. Will Jenna's father change his life? Will Gladstone's go in the direction the son wishes? The book is very realistic in its portrayal of family life and business.
When I picked this book up at the library, the librarian told me she had seen an article in the New York Time about adults reading young adult literature. She said they've noticed this at the library for a couple years now. The great joy of Joan Bauer's book is that it is warm, humorous, kindly, and interesting. Here is her website. I have two more of her books I've borrowed from the library that I so look forward to reading.