Heaven is Paved with Oreos

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.

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A handful of reviews

"A lovely book . . . if you have middle grade girls it is a must buy."

- Wandering Librarians 

“Utterly credible as a Midwestern tween.”

- Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books

“Sarah’s naïveté and geeky charm will make readers laugh and love her.”

- School Library Journal

“Fans of the [Dairy Queen] trilogy will be delighted to revisit both the Schwenks and Red Bend, Wisc.”

- Kirkus

“Sarah’s voice is tart and inquisitive, and’ her observations make the pilgrimage come alive. The family backstory, meanwhile, raises interesting questions about parental responsibilities and women’s roles over several generations.”

- Horn Book

“a sweet story about family and love.”

- Booklist

Questions from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

How did the idea for this book originate?

I’ll be honest: I needed a young-adult narrator to go on a pilgrimage. That’s how it started, but then I realized I could link the story to the Dairy Queen series: bliss!

Talk about the title.

Twenty-five years ago, I saw these words taped to the wall of a copy center at the University of Pennsylvania — a fortune cookie fortune of “Hell is paved with good intentions” with “Heaven is paved with Oreos” carefully handwritten underneath. It encapsulates the theme that there are multiple paths to virtue and love, and you have to make your own.  

How about D.J.?

In writing Heaven is Paved with Oreos, I wanted to do something more with D.J. Schwenk. I loved the idea of finally getting to see her through someone else’s perspective.


Isn’t he wonderful? He seems so scared at times, but in truth he’s amazingly brave. I think having an older sister like D.J. really shaped him.

Is Z based on anyone you know?

This is loopy, but I first got the idea for Z from a woman in a checkout line. She was one of those people you look at and think, what makes this person tick? That woman was peculiar, though, and I don’t think of Z as peculiar, just immature. In many ways she’s still eighteen. That’s what makes Oreos interesting, that Sarah is put in a position of such responsibility, and — rather like D.J. in the Dairy Queen trilogy — that responsibility helps her to grow up, and see the world more clearly.

Who is Miss Lillian Hesselgrave?

Miss Hesselgrave, unfortunately, does not exist. I created her to be the voice of fact, though often inaccurate fact. I’ve come across many real Victorian writers who aren’t that far from Miss Hesselgrave — loads of judgement and quite hilarious today.

Did you have to travel to Rome yourself in order to write this?

Yes. Such hardship! I went with a friend who’d never been, so it was a huge treat to show her the city; she was the most amenable traveler I could ever hope to meet in all my life. Whatever I suggested, she said, “Yes!” The seven pilgrimage churches were more fantastic than I’d ever imagined. I’d only been to St. Peter’s and S Paolo, so seeing the rest . . . I really did feel like I was part of history.

I also had to research commercial food canning . . . I tracked down a wonderful man, a manager at a plant in northern Wisconsin, who was delighted to answer every question I could think of. Thank you, Mr. Severson!

Questions from Big Blue Marble Bookstore >>

Questions From the Mixed-Up Files . . . >>

Questions for readers

  1. What do you think of Sarah and Curtiss's Brilliant Outflanking Strategy? Why does Curtis break up with Sarah? Why does she break up with him?

  2. Sarah has extremely strong views on Emily Friend. How would you describe Emily? 

  3. How does Sarah's opinion of Z evolve over the course of the story? How does your opinion of Z change? 

  4. Z has some pretty impressive secrets. What do you think of them? What about Sarah’s response?

  5. For those readers familiar with the Dairy Queen trilogy: Does Heaven is Paved with Oreos affect your view of D.J.? Do The Off Season and Front and Center affect your view of Sarah? Are there any lessons to be taken from this? 

  6. What do you think will happen with Sarah and Curtis in the next few months? In the next few years?