From the Publisher
“Fourteen-year-old Sarah discovers first love and family secrets in this sweet-as-a-cookie Dairy Queen companion for slightly younger readers.”—Kirkus Reviews
“A sweet story about family and love, which should appeal to tween readers of Wendy Mass.”—Booklist
"[A] funny and sweet coming-of-age story from the author of Dairy Queen. . . [Sarah’s] narrative voice, a winning blend of humor, enthusiasm, and insecurity, will resonate strongly with tween girls, and the journal format will also appeal.”—School Library Journal
“Sarah’s voice is tart and inquisitive, and her observations make the pilgrimage come alive.”—The Horn Book Magazine
“Sarah tells her story in the form of journal entries, and her voice is authentically tween as she tries to sort through the complicated turns her life is taking. . . . Give this to fans of Frances O'Roark Dowell and the younger siblings of those who enjoyed the Dairy Queen trilogy.”—The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books
Murdock returns to Red Bend, Wis., the setting of Dairy Queen and its sequels, with this mild romance/family drama that skews to a younger audience. Sarah Zorn, 14, has been best friends with Curtis Schwenk (the younger brother of Dairy Queen’s D.J. Schwenk) since seventh grade, when they started “fake-going-out” to dispel ongoing comments about their friendship. The summer before Sarah and Curtis start high school, their relationship is in flux. Amid this confusion, Sarah’s hippie-holdover grandmother, Z, whisks her away for a week in Italy, without revealing the real reason for the trip, which involves a fling Z had 40-some years earlier. Sarah tells the story in journal format in a voice that can be oddly young: she describes herself as “not a hair-caring kind of girl” and wonders whether she “boy-likes” Curtis. Sarah’s grandmother is funny and flawed, but her adult concerns overwhelm the plot, and the nature of their Roman holiday—a tour of seven of the city’s most important churches—might make this a tough sell to the intended readership. Ages 10–14. Agent: Jill Grinberg, Jill Grinberg Literary Management. (Sept.)
Children's Literature - Debra Lampert-Rudman
Middle-grade Beatles fans (particularly those who know the lyrics to “When I’m Sixty-Four”) and young girls who enjoy special relationships with their beloved grandmothers will find a lot to relate to in Catherine Gilbert Murdock’s latest novel. This book is told through journal entries written by fourteen-year-old Sarah Zorn in a journal given to her by Grandmother “Z.” Sarah is a girl in search of adventure, although she does not realize it until she is actually on an adventure. Grandmother “Z” is described more like “Aunt Mame” with her adventurous spirit and family secrets. Even Rocky Road ice cream is an unpredictable adventure as seen through the eyes of Sarah Zorn, who writes that “[w]hoever invented Rocky Road should see a psychological counselor.” In fact, whoever reads this book should definitely be sure to read author Catherine Gilbert Murdock’s “Acknowledgments” for a taste of where the real excitement and adventure of the book truly lies. Reviewer: Debra Lampert-Rudman; Ages 9 to 12.
School Library Journal
Gr 5–9—Beloved characters from Red Bend, Wisconsin, return in this funny and sweet coming-of-age story from the author of Dairy Queen (Houghton Harcourt, 2006). It's the summer before high school, and Sarah Zorn is struggling to define her relationship with her best friend, Curtis Schwenk (D.J.'s younger brother). Does she "boy-like" Curtis, or just like him as a friend and fellow science nerd? When her free-spirited Grandma Z offers to take her to Rome, Sarah jumps at the chance to escape her small-town drama and see the wider world. It's part pilgrimage, part trip-down-memory-lane for Z, and it turns out to be much more than Sarah bargained for. In the Eternal City, she grows up a little and finds space and perspective to articulate the kind of girl she wants to be-a girl like D.J., who serves as a role model throughout the book. She also figures out, of course, if she boy-likes Curtis. Sarah's naïveté and geeky charm will make readers laugh and love her. Her narrative voice, a winning blend of humor, enthusiasm, and insecurity, will resonate strongly with tween girls, and the journal format will also appeal.—Emma Burkhart, Springside School, Philadelphia, PA
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)
Read an Excerpt
This journal is for you isn’t it glorious? I saw it & thought of you instantly! Now you can record all your thoughts & your genius & your experiences-to-come! (And are you going to have experiences!) Someday, when you’re a creaky sixty-three-year-old granny, you’ll read this & remember every one of your marvelous adventures. I am so excited! Have fun writing!
Wednesday, June 12
Wow. My very own journal. What do you write in a journal? Because I don’t really have marvelous adventures—not like my grandmother Z. My grandmother Z could have an adventure just shopping for pencils. One time she left her apartment to buy milk and she didn’t make it home for seventy-one hours. That’s a marvelous adventure. My big adventure for today was making sure my best friend didn’t throw up.
Curtis Schwenk—he’s my best friend—is exceedingly shy. He does not like being the center of attention or even the perimeter of attention. In school he never talks at all. If he went out to buy pencils, he would be too shy even to ask where the pencils are located and he would go home empty-handed. A huge public thing like graduation is not a place he would ever happily be, even if he was one of the people graduating, which he is not because we have only finished eighth grade.
This year, though, Curtis’s older brother Win was the speaker at the Red Bend High School graduation ceremony. Curtis’s brother got intensely hurt playing football last year, and now he is recovering. Crowds of people came to hear him talk about overcoming the odds and being a fighter while Curtis sat next to him onstage in a necktie looking 100% queasy. I spent the whole speech sending Curtis morally supportive brain waves.
Then they gave out diplomas and graduation was over. Everyone said congratulations to everyone else even if there was nothing to congratulate them for. I myself got four congratulations just for standing there. The fourth time, I congratulated the fourth person right back and he did not even mind.
For a while I lost sight of Curtis, but then I found him again. Curtis is actually quite easy to find sight of because he is so tall. He saw me and smiled a huge relief-filled smile. “Hey,” he said, lifting up his hand. We Palm Saluted. A Palm Salute is where one person touches his or her left palm to the other person’s right palm. It is an amazingly fantastic gesture of greeting. Curtis and I invented it. We are, I think, the only people in the world who do it. Curtis’s hands are so big that my fingertips only reach his middle phalanx. (That is the scientific name for the middle set of bones in your fingers. I looked it up.)
“Hey,” I said, smiling at him. Every time we Palm Salute, I smile. “How’s Boris?”
“Okay, I think. I haven’t lifted the cover.”
“How bad’s the smell?”
Just then Emily Friend squeezed in next to Curtis. Note that she appeared as Curtis and I were discussing odors. “Hey, Curtis!” she said with that voice she has. “You looked very cool up there.”
Curtis did not say anything. But he quickly took his eyes off me and instead stared at the ground. He would not even share an eye roll.
“Hey, Sarah.” Emily always says my name as though she is just remembering it, even though we have been in school together since kindergarten. “Did you tie Curtis’s necktie for him? My cousin taught me how to tie ties, and it’s very important, you know, knowing how to tie your boyfriend’s tie . . . If you ever need anyone to tie it for you, Curtis, I can do it. I know how.” Then she gave me a look and she left. A look that means, I don’t care what everyone says: I know the truth. I’m on to you.
Curtis kept staring at the ground. I tried to think of what I could have said back to Emily. For example: Curtis and I would rather hang out with a dead calf than with you. Or Your name is Emily Friend, but you’re really Emily Enemy. But neither of these responses would work. No response works if you only think it up after the person has already left.
Finally I said, “So . . . Library? Tomorrow?”
Curtis nodded. “After practice.” He looked like he wanted to say something else, but I waited and he didnt. Mom was talking to Curtis’s sister, D.J.—probably saying congratulations because there weren’t any graduates nearby to say it to. Paul stood behind Mom looking dazed. My brother is a little obsessed with Curtis’s sister. He has articles about D.J. Schwenk playing boys’ football and girls’ basketball taped all over the inside of his closet. She awes him.
Then Curtis went off with D.J., and I went off with Mom and Paul, and Mom said Emily seemed nice because Mom = clueless. Dad was home from work by the time we got there. He asked about graduation. “In three more years,” Dad said to Paul, “that will be you.” He clinked his slice of pizza against Paul’s, like people in movies do with champagne. “And here’s to four more years for Sarah,” he added, and clinked his pizza with me. Four years! That’s how long it is until my very own high school graduation. I am worried about high school, but not too worried. Curtis will be there.
Z is coming for supper tomorrow night—that’s why I’m writing now. She will be immensely thrilled with my journaling. She will say that watching graduation is an adventure too. Good night!
Thursday, June 13
Today I’ll write until Curtis’s baseball practice ends and the library opens and we can go work on Boris. It’s either write or listen to Paul practice guitar. I have < 0.00 percent interest in that.
Curtis Schwenk and I didn’t used to be best friends. We were always in the same grade, but we moved in different circles because he is exceptionally athletic and I am exceptionally not. You could say Curtis moved in circles and I moved in uncoordinated blobs.
Then one day at recess in seventh grade I found a dead robin. I should have ignored it, because whenever I pay attention to things like that, it always ends badly. Which happened this time too. I was not even touching the robin but only studying it when three boys came by.
“That’s disgusting!” said Brett Ortlieb. “Kick it!”
I tried to stop them because nothing that was once alive should be kicked, but my blocking them only made them try harder while Emily Enemy and her friends made grossed-out expressions at me.
That’s when Curtis showed up. He was the tallest kid in school even in seventh grade. All of a sudden he was leaning over Brett and staring at him. “Stop,” he said. One word.
“It’s a dead bird!” Brett said. “It’s disgusting.”
Curtis didn’t say anything, but he clenched his fists. Even if you were looking only at his face, you could see the clenching. He stared at Brett, and Brett stared back until finally Brett muttered “whatever,” and he and his friends walked away.
I stood there. So did Curtis. At last I said, “I was trying to figure out how it died.”
Curtis studied me like he thought I was teasing him. Then he pointed to the gym windows. They were shiny and high—bird high. The robin must have flown into the window and broken its neck.
“Oh,” I said. “I should have figured that out.”
At that moment the bell rang and we had to go inside. Curtis was late, though, I noticed. He didn’t show up until ten minutes into class. Out of the corner of my eye I watched him sit down. He was holding something longish, with dirt stuck to one end. It was a ruler, I could see finally. He slipped it into his backpack.
Curtis had buried the robin. He had dug a hole with a ruler and buried it. Which is exactly what I would have done . . . but I never would have been brave enough to be late to class or swipe a ruler to do it.
I was so impressed by all this that I did not think about anything else for the entire rest of the day.
A few weeks later, Curtis and I ended up partners for a big project on the scientific elements. We picked hydrogen because it is number 1 (that is a chemistry joke). Curtis brought in pictures of the Hindenburg, which is a famous zeppelin from the 1930s that caught fire because it was filled with hydrogen, which burns extremely easily. When hydrogen burns, it turns into waterand yet the water doesn’t put the fire out! Even as Curtis was showing me the pictures and talking about it, he was so shy that he kept stopping, and I was so psyched that he looked like he thought I was teasing. Then he was pleased. He tried to hide it, but I could tell.
Our display was amazing. I will not lie. We had models of hydrogen and H2 (because hydrogen likes being in pairs) and H20 (water) and H202 (hydrogen peroxide), and video of the Hindenburg burning, and the formula H2 (hydrogen) + O2 (oxygen) = H20 (water) + heat (burning zeppelin). Our project was so amazing that a high school teacher told us we should make something for the science fair. So last year we made “Desiccation and Its Effects” using dried rats from Curtis’s family’s farm, and we came in third in the state! Also we started going out.
Now we are preparing for the high school state science fair, which is a much bigger deal because we will be only lowly freshmen. Our project is “Skeletal Taxidermy and Bovine Osteology: The Process of Discovery.” We are assembling the skeleton of a calf from Schwenk Farm that was born dead. Out of respect we have named him Boris, and we have put him in a burial chamber with lots of dirt over him for the worms and ants and other decay-positive life forms, and a cover on top of the burial chamber so coyotes don’t get to him, and now we are waiting for nature to do her work and eat up everything but the bones. It will take about two months, we think. In the meantime we are making the rest of the exhibit.
I am extremely certain Emily could never prepare a calf skeleton. I am not so certain that Curtis thinks that’s a bad thing.
What People are saying about this
"My sister’s novel is a love story to growing up, a love story to Rome, and—in the best and simplest way—a love story to family. I adored reading it."
— Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love