Fourteen-year-old Sarah discovers first love and family secrets in this sweet-as-a-cookie Dairy Queen companion for slightly younger readers.
Sarah Zorn, D.J. Schwenk’s brother Curtis’ science-fair partner, had bit parts in the Dairy Queen trilogy, but she takes center stage in Murdock’s latest. Even though it’s summer, Sarah and Curtis are preparing for their ninth-grade science-fair project: waiting for Boris, a calf born dead, to decay. In narrator Sarah’s mind, they are just friends. Curtis, with typical Schwenk communication problems, tells Sarah he wants a real girlfriend just as Sarah’s hippie grandmother, Z, invites her to Rome. In a series of journals, introduced by black-and-white images of Rome, Sarah describes both the pilgrimage to seven churches of Rome—a pilgrimage that Z had not quite completed 46 years before as an art student—and her growing awareness of “boy-liking” feelings for Curtis. Advice from D.J., who has a minor but comforting chauffeuring role, helps Sarah mature, as does having to be responsible for the increasingly erratic Z as reasons for her pilgrimage become evident. This coming-of-age novel with an endearingly naïve narrator unfortunately bogs down midway under the weight of Roman church history. The cover, cleverly connecting Oreos and cows, will attract preteens.
Fans of the trilogy will be delighted to revisit both the Schwenks and Red Bend, Wisc. (Fiction. 10-14)