It’s the early 1970s. The town of Ringgold, Georgia, has a population of 1,923, one traffic light, one Dairy Queen, and one Catherine Grace Cline. The daughter of Ringgold’s third-generation Baptist preacher, Catherine Grace is quick-witted, more than a little stubborn, and dying to escape her small-town life.
Every Saturday afternoon, she sits at the Dairy Queen, eating Dilly Bars and plotting her getaway to Atlanta. And when, with the help of a family friend, the dream becomes a reality, she immediately packs her bags, leaving her family and the boy she loves to claim the life she’s always imagined. But before things have even begun to get off the ground in Atlanta, tragedy brings Catherine Grace back home. As a series of extraordinary events alter her perspective–and sweeping changes come to Ringgold itself–Catherine Grace begins to wonder if her place in the world may actually be, against all odds, right where she began. Intelligent, charming, and utterly readable, Looking for Salvation at the Dairy Queen marks the debut of a talented new literary voice. -- Three Rivers Press
I am a huge sucker for good Southern fiction! Even though I now live in Central, PA, I did spend the majority of my childhood living in the South; and maybe that's one of the reasons that I enjoy these types of books so much. When I read the praise for LOOKING FOR SALVATION AT THE DAIRY QUEEN by Susan Gregg Gilmore and saw that this novel was being compared to Fannie Flagg's books, I just knew I had to read it. I absolutely love some of Ms. Flagg's novels and especially her characters, and I can definitely say that LOOKING FOR SALVATION AT THE DAIRY QUEEN did not disappoint me (even given that big build-up). I treasured each and every page of this book!
I read this book in almost one sitting (which you know is hard if you are a stay-at-home mother of two.) There are just so many things that I loved about this novel, but I think what I appreciated the most were the characters -- and especially Catherine Grace. This book is really a coming-of age novel about Catherine Grace growing up in the South in the 1970s, and she is just one of those characters that you can't help but fall in love with. She was smart, sassy, stubborn and even a little vulnerable; and reading about her actions both as a child and an adult were just so much fun. I loved seeing how Catherine Grace handled the various challenges in her life, and I enjoyed seeing her mature into an amazing young woman as a result of them.
The supporting characters in this book were wonderful too from Catherine Grace's sister, father, and even the various citizens of Ringgold. I especially loved Catherine Grace's colorful neighbor Gloria Jean who provided the much-needed woman's touch in Catherine Grace's life. Not only did Gloria Jean teach her about boys, clothes, and nail polish, but she also taught her so many wonderful life lessons about acceptance and forgiveness. Her support of Catherine Grace, even when Catherine Grace wasn't always appreciative, was such a heart-warming form of kindness.
Another thing I really liked about this book were the many messages about life that Catherine Grace learned while growing up. Many of these messages seem obvious to me now, but I can remember being young like Catherine Grace and not yet being able to see the bigger picture. There were also many lessons in this story that I still haven't quite figured out, and seeing how Catherine Grace was able to forgive the people in her life that harmed her really caused me to take a step back and think. I love it when I can take messages from books and apply them to my real life!
I am so impressed that this book was Ms. Gilmore's debut novel. Ms. Gilmore has written articles for numerous newspapers as well as a weekly column on parenting in the South; however, I am very glad that she decided to apply her writing talents to a novel. I loved her writing style -- it was so real to me; and I think the characters she created are very memorable. And while this book deeply touched me, I also found myself laughing out loud at certain parts -- it was a great blend of storytelling and humor. If you think you might be interested in reading some of Ms. Gilmore's work, you should definitely check out this excerpt of the book or even her personal blog.
I highly recommend LOOKING FOR SALVATION AT THE DAIRY QUEEN! It's just a very sweet book that is guaranteed to make you smile; however, it also contains some pretty substantial and thought-provoking themes. I think this novel would make for a terrific book club selection because there is just so much to talk about; and I was very happy to see that there is a reading guide available with some very interesting questions. Some topics for discussion include parent/child relationships, sisterhood, redemption, death, religion, happiness, salvation, escapism, and especially forgiveness. Food was also a huge recurring theme throughout this novel, and I can only imagine how fun it would be to serve (and eat) some of the foods mentioned in this story like strawberry jam and dilly bars. Check out some of the fun ideas this book club had for a LOOKING FOR SALVATION AT THE DAIRY QUEEN meeting.
I do have to warn you that reading this book will make you crave ice cream and especially a dilly bar or chocolate dipped cone. I can pretty much promise that you'll want to make a trip to Dairy Queen before you are done!
Make sure you come back tomorrow because Ms. Gilmore will be stopping by with a fantastic guest post and I just might have some copies of this book to share!
A big thanks to Priya and Three Rivers Press for sending me a copy of this book.