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Hit the Road    by Caroline B. Cooney order for
Hit the Road
by Caroline B. Cooney
Order:  USA  Can
Delacorte, 2006 (2006)
* * *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

Brittany Anne Bowman is about to face the challenge of a lifetime at age sixteen. Brit's driver's license is eleven days new. Her parents have only one car which they are driving to the airport to board a flight for a well-deserved vacation in Alaska. Brit is dropped off at her beloved Nannie's home to spend the first two weeks of summer vacation. But Nannie has other plans.

When Nannie Rawlings had her license taken away, Mom Bowman told her, 'Your eyes are so bad you can't tell the difference between a trash barrel and a two-year-old at the side of the road. Your knees are so stiff it takes you five minutes to brake.' As Brit's parents leave the yard, in comes a Safari van (deluxe model), which Nannie plans to use to get to the 65th Reunion of the Buttermere Dormitory for Ladies, at their Maine alma mater. Along the way, they will pick up dorm sisters Florence Mirsky, Aurelia Alan, and Daisy Ferrer. First stop is Long Island for Flo, next is Aurelia in a Massachusetts nursing home prison - she was placed there by her calculating doctor son (whom she believes wants her money.)

These days, 'Nannie was always getting stuck on a sofa that was too soft or too deep.' So Brit wonders how Nannie can expect to get into the driver's seat of the van, with its narrow running board. However, 'Clinging to the door and scrabbling at the seat, she got her right foot onto the lower step. Brit moved in close so she could make a save. Gripping the seat belt as Tarzan gripped vines, Nannie tried to haul herself in. The seat belt just lengthened ... she got a fingerhold on the handle, and with great effort, placed her toes on the running board ... fell over onto the seat ... She was too short to see over the dashboard ... let alone reach the pedals.'

Nannie backs up, running over hedges, roses, and herb garden, and making ditches in the soft grass - 'The yard looked as if an entire football team's worth of vandals had been at work all night.' Brit is asked to chauffeur Nannie and her dorm sisters to the Reunion (they haven't missed any, except the previous year when their children told them they were too old to travel). It's much more than a short ride across town! They deal with theft, lies, kidnapping, and lots more mischief along the way, after Brit gets behind the wheel, scared stiff! Nannie assures Brit, 'Don't worry ... I'll navigate. You'll steer. Load the car, Brit. Let's hit the parkway. We have a kidnap scheduled.'

This sets the flavor of Caroline Cooney's Hit The Road, the continuously hilarious story of Brit, Nannie, Flo, Aurelia, and the Reunion. (They never make it to pick up Daisy). The kidnap plan is to arrive at the nursing home, announce themselves as a sister and friends who will take Aurelia out to lunch. Stops along the way include powder rooms, cemeteries, thrift shops, and getting Aurelia to her attorney's office so she can change her will. Brit receives cell phone calls and text messages from friends Coop, Hayley, and Molly, offering advice. The highway seems to go on forever, with Brit thinking they should bump into Canada or Ireland at any moment!

In the meantime, cell calls come in from Mom and Dad, wanting to know where Brittany and Nannie are, leading to imaginative lies. Plus one of Nannie's neighbors has contacted the police after noticing the vandalism to the front yard - more concocted stories. It suddenly comes to Brit that she had misunderstood the entire trip. 'This journey was not about 'Reunion'. It was about saying good-bye… to each other, to the wonderful sunny days when they were Buttermere girls. Good-bye to cemeteries where loved ones lay. Good-bye to a house where memories clung. They would not pass this way again.'

The first third of Cooney's rambunctious story involves eighty-year olds reminiscing about college days and their marriages, while the second third describes Brit's self-control (lost at times), navigating the vehicle, listening to Nannie's directions, watching traffic, knowing there are messages on her cell - the boarding of the Port Jeff Ferry is an experience in itself, and finding the emergency brake to hold the vehicle from sliding into the water is a hootenanny, let alone boarding the SUV again and attempting to release said brake to leave the ferry.

Thank heaven for cell phones, text messaging, and computer downloads - until the great Doctor (Aurelia's son) finds Brit's cell number. Cooney adds a twist in the last third of the story, leading to suspenseful, wanting to read until the end scenes, with a firecracker finish. What starts off as humorous, proceeds to a spunky rendition of appreciating the assumptions automatically made of aging, and the reversal of parent-child roles with the child going a little too far to supposedly protect the aging parent - so that freedom and independence is taken away.

Cooney - whose many YA novels include The Time Travelers series, Code Orange, and Goddess of Yesterday - shows the love in friendship, as well as a dedicated, loyal, non-judgmental granddaughter and a frisky, determined grandmother (a wonderful combo) in a great adventure, created by a great writer. I give a resounding cheer for Brit and her elderly charges - You go girls! This story would make a great film. (I see Nannie played by Debbie Reynolds, and perhaps Jack Nicholson as the doctor son).

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