When I Hit the Road

Book review by
Carrie Kingsley, Common Sense Media
When I Hit the Road Book Poster Image
Girl's road trip with grandma is fast, fun, meaningful.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Fun story meant to entertain, but readers get an amusing look at Florida. 

Positive Messages

Be optimistic and look for multiple ways to solve a problem. Own up to your mistakes. Don't take family for granted or be too busy to make memories with the people you care about. Be open to new adventures and risk stepping outside your comfort zone.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Sam's parents, grandma, and others are supportive and care about her. Both Sam and Brandon show real vulnerability and maturity when talking through conflicts.


Mentions of physical attraction to a boy.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Nancy J. Cavanaugh's When I Hit the Road takes a few pages to settle into the first person, diary-style writing, and soon becomes a charming, breezy road trip story with self-doubting seventh-grader Sam. She chronicles the trip for her later self, from her reluctant involvement at the start through the adventures that turn it into a summer to remember forever. There's some great insight here into how someone at this "in between" age feels about the changing expectations of responsibility. The cast of characters in the red Mustang, a well-intentioned but controlling mom, and Sam's honesty with herself make for a fun, compelling read.

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What's the story?

Written like a diary, WHEN I HIT THE ROAD follows reluctant seventh-grader Samantha (Sam) and her Type-A mom to Florida to check on Sam's newly widowed grandma. Certain the place will be filled with old people and ready for a terrible time, Sam soon finds herself in the back seat of her grandma's new Mustang convertible, hitting the back roads of Florida on a quest to enter her grandma in karaoke contests and deliver Bibles to churches for Mimi, her grandma's friend and co-pilot of the Mustang. Toss in a surprise guest just one year older than Sam, an alligator, a car-swallowing ditch, the world's grossest bathroom, and trouble with medication, and the trip goes from an annoyance to an utterly unforgettable adventure.

Is it any good?

In this fun and mostly lighthearted story, Sam is likable even when she's wallowing in self-pity, because she has an awareness that she's wallowing. She knows when she's thinking or acting selfishly, and she owns up to it. When I Hit the Road is a little slow to start, and Sam's narration is a bit clunky at first, but the pace picks up and the writing smooths out quickly, making for a fast, fun read with tons of heart. Sam's attempt to shield her controlling mother from more stress shows just how this age group struggles to jump between being a child and an adult -- and how often adults expect these kids to know when to take on more responsibility and when to step back and let "real" adults make the decisions.

Sam has tons of self-doubt but soon discovers she's not alone with those feelings, and this road-trip adventure is filled with both life lessons and lots of laughs.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about road trips of their own. Have any family trips reminded you of any parts of When I Hit the Road?

  • What do you like best about road trips? What don't you like? Where would you like to go next, and who would you like to be in the car?

  • What other travel adventures have you read?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love road trips and grandparent tales

Themes & Topics

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