I haven’t read a book by Caroline B. Cooney since... when? Middle school, at least.
Hit the Road didn’t disappoint. I read it in one sitting, giggling throughout the first half, then squawking at Josh whenever he tried to talk to me during the tense second half.
Brittany Anne Bowman (her friends call her Brit) only had her driver’s license for eleven days before getting dumped at her grandmother’s house for two weeks with no car while her parents head off for an Alaskan vacation. So much for summer vacation.
Or. So. She. Thought. (You can insert some creepy/foreboding horror movie music here, although it isn't really that kind of book. But a line like that just calls for it.)
Brit doesn’t even make it into her grandmother’s house before a rental van pulls in -- turns out that her grandmother has big plans for the next week or so.
Briefly, the plan is: Drive from Connecticut to Long Island, pick up a college friend, drive to Massachusetts to break another one out of a nursing home who says she’s been put in against her will, then swing up to grab the fourth college buddy and head on up to Maine for their sixty-fifth college reunion. (There’s also a plan to stop off at a lawyer’s office to change the will of the incarcerated woman -- she says that her son faked the power of attorney documentation and that no, she does not have Alzheimer’s.)
It doesn’t take long for them to figure out that while it’s illegal, it’ll be a whole lot safer if Brit does the driving:
Nannie braked. But the pressure of one toe was not enough to stop the Safari. And she didn’t have the strength, a second time, to stand up on the pedal. Tugging at the wheel, Nannie thrust her little mauve shoe at anything on the floor. There was not time for Brit to slide her grandmother out of the driver’s seat and take over before they ended up in the middle of traffic and got smashed to death, not an optimal first day of vacation.
It’s a great road trip book -- funny and rambunctious with a lot of heart. But that's not all. This is a Caroline B. Cooney book, after all. There's loads of suspense, multiple kidnappings, a car chase, threats of life-ruining and violence and jail time. Brit is able to keep in touch with -- and get help from -- her friends due to cellphones and a laptop. (It occasionally felt quite Veronica Mars-y, though Brit is an amateur.)
The introduction of Alzheimer’s into the mix makes the suspense especially effective. Patients have a tendency towards paranoia, so for quite some time, Brit isn’t sure who is telling the truth -- Aurelia or her smooth-talking-BBC-commentator-voiced son.
There’s also an important message about ageism in the book – but it doesn’t feel like it’s there just for the sake of being there. (In other words, it isn’t a Frying Pan book.) It comes out as the characters and relationships develop, so it doesn’t feel forced or awkward or like anyone is doing any speechifying. (I stole that word from Bennett Madison.) Maybe I'm a bit more sensitive about the topic because of recent events in my own life, but I found myself tearing up occasionally. But then the action/suspense portion of the book would kick in again and everything was a-okay. Way fun, perfect summer reading.