Review of HEAVEN IS PAVED WITH OREOS, by: Catherine Gilbert Murdock
From the Jacket Copy:
Sarah Zorn and her best friend, Curtis, have a great solution to the constant teasing that they’re going out: they simply pretend that they are, employing what Sarah terms a “Brilliant Outflanking Strategy.” But fake dating is a lot more difficult than Sarah thought, once it starts creating real feelings – feelings too complicated for even A-student Sarah to explain. When her zany grandmother invites her on a Roman holiday, Sarah jumps at the chance to discover Italy and escape the awkward situation with Curtis.
The trip of a lifetime holds plenty of surprises, however, as Sarah uncovers longtime secrets and discovers the many meanings of love.
Sarah Zorn. I loved her! Which is a good thing, since I was in her head for the entire novel. Sarah begins to keep a journal on the advice of her eccentric grandmother Z, and the book unfolds in a sequence of her journal entries. I think Murdock did a fantastic job creating Sarah. She’s winsome, thoughtful, intelligent, not whiny, and authentic. I was cheering for Sarah as she sorted out the complex relationships in her life, and Murdock touched on them all: first loves, friendships, the transition to adulthood, siblings, relationships with parents, and relationship with a grandparent.
The humor. Sarah has a sharp wit that feels natural for a smart up-coming 9th grader. I find that witty characters can often feel too-precocious or snarky, but not so in this novel! Funny without being overdone.
The science. Perhaps it’s because I’m in the middle of writing a book about two science-geeks, but I loved that Sarah and Curtis’ friendship builds around their different science projects.
Rome! It was fun to see Italy for the first time through Sarah’s eyes, although I did finish the book wishing the setting had been more of a major player. When I read in the summary that Sarah and her grandmother went on “pilgrimage” to Rome, I had high expectations to really experience what a modern-day pilgrimage might be like, but I was disappointed to find this element a bit underdeveloped. Even so, it was an enjoyable jaunt.
Truthfulness. I loved, loved, loved that this was where Murdock took Sarah. Relationships can be so muddy at any age, and Sarah’s courage to be truthful with those around her is refreshing.
This is the kind of novel I wish I could have read as a girl. Sarah is a main character I would have wanted to be friends with, and I think her journey is one that will resonate with readers.
A final note: HEAVEN IS PAVED WITH OREOS seems to straddle the MG/YA line. Sarah is an upcoming freshman, so her age places this as an upper MG read, but she’s dealing with more YA themes: boy/girl relationships, coming to terms with her grandmother’s fallibility, a few indirect sexual references, and a storyline that has the main character interacting with her immediate family in a coming-of-age sort of way. In that sense, thematically it seems to fit more as a YA novel, so keep that in mind as you’re recommending it to young readers.
For two lucky Mayhem followers, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has sent me two hardback copies for a giveaway. To enter, follow us if you haven’t already and leave a comment with your name and favorite ice cream flavor, something that also plays a central role in HEAVEN IS PAVED WITH OREOS. (Oreos and ice-cream. That alone could have sold me ;)
The giveaway will be open until midnight PST Oct. 6, and I'll post the winner at the top of this entry shortly thereafter.