If the ridiculous (and creative!) title doesn’t catch your eye as you’re perusing the new arrivals section at the library, than I don’t know what does. It’s certainly what I noticed first, then the spotted suitcase on the cover and then its author. I grabbed it up, remembering how much I loved Gilbert-Murdock’s Dairy Queen trilogy when I was in high school and, lo and behold, this book is a companion to it. You can read this book without first reading that trilogy, but it does take place after it and thus spoils a few things. It was a quick read for me, and I quite enjoyed it, though I struggled with Sarah’s voice a bit and didn’t think it packed as much emotional punch as it could have. 3.5/5 stars
Heaven is Paved with Oreos takes place in the summer after the end of Front and Center and follows Sarah Zorn, (That’s DJ’s little brother Curtis’s “girlfriend”/science fair partner if you remember from The Off Season). Sarah and Curtis have been fake dating to stave off the teasing that comes along with being boy/girl just-friends, but things are starting to get complicated. Sarah’s just trying to figure out her life as she gets ready to go to high school in the fall when her youthful, free-spirited grandmother invites her on a week-long trip to Rome to finish the seven church pilgrimage she started, but didn’t finish with friends years before. It’s a major learning and growing experience for Sarah as she experiences the foreign country and copes with some startling secrets about her family history.
This was sweet and cute. I was predisposed to like this, after loving the Schwenk family all throughout the Dairy Queen series, especially the side-plot nerd love between Curtis and Sarah. This book explores that of course, but it’s a romance in the middle grade sense, focusing more on the nervousness around the start of a relationship than anything truly physical.
I would be remiss if I made this sound like just a romance, however. At it’s heart, this book is all about Sarah’s journey of self discovery as she experiences a foreign country, gains some self sufficiency and independence, and reckons with the secrets within her family. I enjoyed reading the trip more than I thought I would, it’s clear CGM did her research, and Sarah’s journey was, overall, pretty compelling.
The book is written as though we’re reading Sarah’s journal, which is mostly effective, as it gives an easy way to portray Sarah’s thoughts and feelings, though I did find her to be a bit juvenile sounding for her age (she’s 14 and she won’t even say “Oh my God” instead of “Oh my gosh” and the “boy-liker” thing sounded dumb to me as well). It was pretty believable, especially since it allowed the book to be longer and more descriptive at its exciting points (the trip) and skip days between notable events back home. There was even a little bit of a tense mystery for a few pages as Sarah is interrupted in her writing by a traumatic event and then only hints at it for a little while before it gets explained. It gave a unique, present-tense twist to a largely past-tense format and I enjoyed it a lot.
For me, this was a fun, one-evening read. It wasn’t ground-breaking and it had a few flaws, but I thoroughly enjoyed spending more time in Red Bend and beyond with Gilbert-Murdoch and her characters. In the week or so since I finished this, I’ve found that the characters have stuck around in my head, making me hope she’s planning a sequel to this one; though I have no clue if she is or not, but I keep imagining more romance and a return trip! Definitely check it out if you liked the whole Dairy Queen series. I would also recommend it to a younger reader (or any middle grade fan!) looking for some strong-girl travel adventure/feel-good family drama.