“When your heart is ready to break, that’s the perfect time to bake,” is one of Foster McFee’s many tips for cooking—and living. In Close to Famous by Newbery Honor-winning author Joan Bauer, 12-year-old Foster has indeed found the perfect time to bake. Still grieving from the death of her soldier father in Iraq nearly five years ago, Foster and her backup-singer mother are forced to flee their Memphis rental after her mother is punched in the face by her ex-boyfriend.
After driving all night, they find themselves in Culpepper, West Virginia, where a new prison and a factory closing have hit the locals hard. With dreams of being the youngest chef on the Food Network, Foster introduces her scrumptious cupcakes—and hope—to the depressed town. With the tween’s help, aspiring documentary filmmaker Macon confronts the unfulfilled promises of the prison, secluded award-winning actress Charleena Hendley finds the courage to return to Hollywood, Wayne (of Angry Wayne’s Bar and Grill) reveals a generous side, and Foster’s mother steps out of the shadows and into the limelight as a singer.
Even Foster is transformed as she admits to being practically illiterate. Just like her cupcakes, she springs back when ready. Her newfound friends begin to teach her to read and change her self-perception from limited to limitless. Through it all, Bauer once again displays her keen gift for dialogue and subtle humor, showing the possibilities when different generations and community members rally together.