Thwonk -- Joan Bauer

This book doesn't deserve its bad rep.  Sure, it's clear that Joan Bauer has improved as a writer since (this is her second book, published in 1995).  If you read Hope Was Here first and then go backwards, for the most part, the others don't stand much of a chance.  (I did love Rules of the Road, though).  But if you start from Squashed and read forward, she just gets better and better.  (Actually, I've heard some not-so-great things about Stand Tall, but I'm reserving judgment until I actually read it).

Her books are kind of all alike.  I don't want to say that she's a formula writer because that's so negative and I love her books and the term "formula writer" usually refers to people like Michael Crichton or John Grisham or (dare I say it?) Dan Brown--people that have figured out the ultimate plot devices that hook readers, regardless of the fact that they're kind of lousy writers.  Joan Bauer is different because she's a good writer.  The similarity between all of her books?  Her main characters always have (at least) one huge passion/talent--Hope is a fantabulous waitress, Jenna can sell shoes like no other, and A.J. is a photographer extraordinaire.  There's usually a love interest, too:

I was in my makeshift darkroom above the garage developing my umpteenth print of Peter Terris, an individual of full-orbed gorgeousness who needs absolutely no retouching, an individual oozing with classic tones and highlights who barely knew that I was alive.

The photography makes A.J. a classic Bauer heroine, but she doesn't have the kind of personality that they tend to have.  She's a bit of a spaz:

Three lowly freshmen had stopped to watch me shout and gesture to the air.  I swung around.

"Do you mind?" I bellowed.  They scattered like squirrels.  I brushed off my jacket.  Never underestimate the supremacy of senior year.

The other thing that sets Thwonk apart from the rest of them is the fantasy element.  And, as far as I'm concerned, fantasy in a Joan Bauer book is just weird.  But if it hadn't been a book by Joan Bauer, and I hadn't gone into it with a preconceived notion of what Joan Bauer books are supposed to be like, it would have been fine. 

A.J. has a run-in with a cupid.  Yep--little wings, arrows, the whole shebang.  And, of course, when given the chance to either get good grades, start an amazing career as a photographer, or get Peter Ferris to fall madly in love with her, it's not hard to figure out which choice she makes.

You know in The Craft, when they cast that love spell on that boy and he turns into a total psycho and everything goes wrong?  Well, there you have it.

It just occurred to me that there hasn't been a new Bauer book in a couple of years--I just checked, and there's a sequel to Rules of the Road coming out next month!