Fourteen-year-old Sarah Zorn intends to spend the Wisconsin summer with her “boyfriend” Curtis, waiting for a dead calf named Boris to decompose in time for the science fair. Her plans upend, however, when her fake-boyfriend strategy goes seriously awry just as her hippie Grandma Z invites her on a last-minute Roman holiday. As Sarah explores Italy’s ancient wonders, she can’t stop “boy-liking” Curtis . . . or puzzling over her grandmother’s odd behavior. Written as Sarah’s journal, this satisfying middle grade novel navigates the murky waters of first love, friendship, and family with heart and good humor.
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.