Joan Bauer's new book, CLOSE TO FAMOUS, (Viking, February 2011) is vintage Bauer: warm humor (more on that later), sympathetic characters, road trips, lessons learned the hard way, dealing with losses, and baked goods. What's that? Baked goods as part of Joan Bauer's work? Well, that may be a slight stretch. However, the power of the right food, the importance of the right ingredients and the correct process, the essential nature of nourishment: that is classic Joan Bauer. Food, however, is a metaphor (and a yummy one). It is more than physical food. Instead, it stands for all that nourishes us--hopes, dreams, wishes, prayers, family, friends, new beginnings, and much more. But back to the book itself.
Foster (pay attention to names here) and her Mother have left their home after a vicious confrontation with an ex-boyfriend who is an Elvis impersonator. They are rescued by wrecker drivers who offer them sanctuary in their empty mobile home. This bullet shaped new residence will only be for a little while, Mom promises. Somehow, Foster and her Mother find that this is a community where perhaps they can put down new roots. All this despite all of the drama already going on in town. There's the new prison that was supposed to help locals with new jobs. Somehow that has not panned out. Add in the sale of the old church to a chain taco restaurant, a retired and reclusive Hollywood star, and a few other elements, and what you have is a town ripe for a little help from Foster's baked goods. Even Angry Wayne (remember what I said about names earlier?) finds Foster's talents to his liking. This tween will take the town by storm or rather by cupcake, brownie, and muffin. <425>
There are many things to admire about this book, but I come back, as I do every time I read a book by Joan Bauer, to the humor. I have called it warm and gentle. I wish for stronger words, though. Bauer's humor is LIGHT, literally and figuratively: it sheds light on dark situations, it makes light of someone who is taking her or himself too seriously. It is never mean-spirited or self-deprecating. I think that is why sometimes it goes by relatively unnoticed. And that, readers, is a good thing. The humor is quiet and unforced and sometimes quite sly.