Reading Susan Gregg Gilmore's debut novel is almost like being introduced to the author herself. The former journalist writes Looking for Salvation at the Dairy Queen in a conversational Southern dialect that includes frequent use of words like "dad-gum." The reader is instantly immersed in a world of chigger bites, berry picking, comfort food and Sunday school.
The small town of Ringgold, Georgia, is home to nearly 2,000 people in the early 1970s, and one of these citizens is a girl with big aspirations. Catherine Grace Cline, the preacher's daughter, dreams of moving to the big city—Atlanta—as soon as she turns 18. She and her younger sister, Martha Ann, lick Dilly Bars at the Dairy Queen every Saturday and plan what excitement their lives will hold in Atlanta. The difficult part is that Catherine Grace must leave her father, sister and high school boyfriend behind. She embarks on what she hopes is a great adventure as an independent young woman, but soon returns to Ringgold because of a devastating tragedy. A surprising series of events, including revealed family secrets, causes Catherine Grace to question where she really belongs: working at Davison's department store in Atlanta or growing her own crop of tomatoes in Ringgold? Maybe what she was seeking could have been found in her hometown all along.
The tight-knit Cline clan lives in a home of Baptist values and Georgia football, but the most significant component of this family is their confidence in one another's dreams. That kind of love and support is even more appealing than a diet of Dilly Bars, and Gilmore's novel is a meal well worth the consumption.
(This review refers to the hardcover edition.)