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Jenna drives to Texas;Set plays

RULES OF THE ROAD. By Joan Bauer. Orion pound;4.99.

Joan Bauer's books are wonderful and each one seems like the best yet. She specialises in sharp one-liners and feisty heroines who find that their all-consuming passions help them through the various life crises that confront them.

Squashed! and Thwonk!, the first two excellent Bauer novels to make it here from the United States, offered engaging, cliche-free views of small-town America. This one opens in Chicago but swiftly hits the highway, as Jenna's twin passions are cars and the shoes that she sells to save up for her own motor. She also has various caretaking jobs - alcoholic father, grandmother with Alzheimer's, self-absorbed younger sister - and a road trip away from it all is enticing.

Jenna's employer, the grande dame of quality footwear, recruits her to drive the company Cadillac to Texas, gathering evidence of shoe-shop skulduggery en route. The adventure element - Thelma and Louise with a wide fitting - leaves room for emotional depth. Rules of the Road will appeal to any 13-year-old girl who already has her eye on the car keys.

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