by Catherine Gilbert Murdock
First sentence: “Darling Sarah!”
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When I heard that Catherine Murdock wrote a new book in D. J. Schwenk’s world, the first thing I did was put in on hold at the library. It’s been years since I’ve read Dairy Queen and it’s companion books, but I have fond memories of them. And while I didn’t love this one as much as the originals, it didn’t disappoint.
Fourteen-year-old Sarah Zorn is best friends with Curtis Schwenk. And since that’s not really acceptable in middle school (as C finds out more often than not), they’ve come up with their “Brilliant Outflanking Strategy”: let everyone think that they’re dating, even if they’re not. Except, that doesn’t really work: right before Sarah goes to Rome with her grandma, Z (yes, that’s what everyone calls her), Curtis “breaks up” with her.
But, as things go, Lessons Are Learned in Rome (Italy is a good place for Lessons), and Sarah comes home a Wiser and More Mature person, one who is more willing to face the unknown. A lot of that is due to her grandmother’s story, which we learn over the course of the book.
Told in journal-style (is there a name for that?), we see the world, both Wisconsin and Rome, through Sarah’s eyes. She’s a lovely person to have as a companion through this journey. And even though Z’s story is a non-traditional one, I found it hard to judge her for it. She was who she was, and even Sarah’s questioning of that didn’t stop me from enjoying Z. (Maybe it’s because I’m a hippie at heart.) My favorite part was the Rome section. Murdock only had Sarah and Z spend a week there; I wished it could have gone on much longer, and in more detail. But, I did like how the act of going changed Sarah, and the results that came out of that.
So, no, it’s not as strong a novel as Murdock’s original series; in many ways it feels tacked-on after the fact, an unnecessary cousin tagging along. But that didn’t stop me from really liking it.