100. Joan Bauer, Close to Famous
I've been reading a lot of great middle grade books this week (next up, Clare Vanderpol's latest . . .). I think good middle grade is harder to do than it looks, and I thought this book did an excellent job of presenting real-life problems from the perspective of a twelve-year-old. More than that, Bauer took a wide cast of characters and issues, and deftly wove them all together, so that by the end we were cheering for more than just the main character.
Twelve-year-old Sutton Foster is on the run with her Mama, after her Mama's ex-boyfriend, an Elvis impersonater by the name of Huck, hits her. They wind up in the unprepossessing town of Culpepper, a town run-down and discouraged by the presence of a near-by prison (which promised to bring in jobs for the town, but has so far only succeeded in ruining morale). There, the generosity of strangers induces them to stay, and before long Sutton is cooking up her famous cupcakes for a local restaurant and running errands for Miss Charleena, a former Hollywood star. Seems like everyone in town has a dream: Mama dreams of singing on the stage, Sutton wants to be the first Food Network child host, tiny Macon wants to be a documentary filmmaker (and tell the story of the prison's broken promises). But dreams are complicated things, and it will take a lot of work for this crowd to start realizing those dreams.
I think what I liked best about the story--besides the honesty of Sutton's voice--is the way that everyone seemed to have a "superpower," that they were able to use at just the right moment to help someone else. I liked, too, that Sutton and her mom weren't perfect, but they had a warm relationship.