Close to Famous by Joan Bauer
Lonely kid moves to a new town seeking a fresh start, meets colorful characters and finds a Place to Belong. Sound familiar?
This basic storyline shows up a lot in middle-reader chapter books, and it’s a plot that works. Turtle in Paradise, Okay for Now, and Because of Winn Dixie are just a few of the terrific, award-winning books based on this very model. Like The Orphan Finds a Family or the Dystopian Revolt Against Authority, this storyline is often compelling, and when skillfully rendered can rise above stereotype.
Close to Famous does this very sweetly.
Twelve-year-old Foster bakes a mean cupcake and dreams of her own cooking show. But she certainly faces obstacles along the way: her father was killed in the Iraq War and her mother, Rayka, has not been lucky in love since. Foster struggles in school, and there is some question about whether she really should have passed 6th grade. When her mother’s Elvis-impersonating, abusive boyfriend finally goes too far, mother and daughter flee Memphis and drive until they land, at random, in Culpepper, West Virginia.
Culpepper is a colorful town with its share of problems: the church is for sale, the newly built prison has failed to deliver on its promise of new jobs, and local businesses: the Food Store, Angry Wayne’s Bar and Grill, and Fish Hardware are struggling to make it.
It turns out to be a match made in heaven. This funny little town opens its heart to Foster and Rayka, and the unlikely set of skills that mother and daughter bring to Culpepper turn out to be precisely what the town needs. Angry Wayne didn’t even know he needed a new muffin baker until Foster shows up, and Fish Hardware comes alive with Rayka’s creative marketing ideas. Mother and daughter fall easily into friendships, including with the reclusive Miss Charleena, a Hollywood star who has taken refuge in Culpepper after being humiliated by the tabloids.
Close to Famous is a heartwarming book about the healing power of friendship and home cooking that will have you dusting off your muffin tins and cranking up the oven by the end of chapter one. Yum.
For girls (mostly) from 8-12.