Front and Center

Title: Front and Center (Book 3 in Dairy Queen)
Author: Catherine Gilbert Murdock
Publisher: HMH Books
Release Date: Apirl 4, 2011

After five months of sheer absolute craziness I was going back to being plain old background D.J. In photographs of course I’m always in the background . . .
But it turns out other folks have big plans for D.J. Like her coach. College scouts. All the town hoops fans. A certain Red Bend High School junior who’s keen for romance and karaoke. Not to mention Brian Nelson, who she should not be thinking about! Who she is done with, thank you very much. But who keeps showing up anyway . . .
Readers first fell in love with straight-talking D. J. Schwenk in Dairy Queen; they followed her ups and downs both on and off the court in The Off Season. Now D. J. steps out from behind the free-throw line in this final installment of the Dairy Queen trilogy.

I think the sign of a good series is when you are satisfied with the outcome and the final ending, but the sign of a great series is when you love the ending so much that you want to know what happens next even if the story is all tied up. That’s how I felt about this finale of the trilogy – there were no loose ends from the story, but I still have that anxiety of wanting to know more about what happens next with the characters!

D.J. is a fantastic character, and tells her story so well. I love her voice, and I feel as though her way of putting feelings into words is just amazing. Murdock perfectly describes exactly how D.J. feels so that as a reader, I’m right there with her. When D.J. is nervous and on the verge of breaking down, so am I; when she actually broke down into tears, so did I; when she was touched by little gestures or angry at her older brother, so was I. It was an experience reading this book, because I can’t recall ever being so fully embedded in a character’s head before. Murdock was extremely successful in this aspect of her series.

I loved the plot, too. D.J. continues to grow up, with her family and friends to guide her. She makes mistakes, gets hurt, learns about herself, and is emotional, just like any normal teenager. I love the realism and the way the relationships between the characters make the plot matter just as much as the characterization.

The romance part of the book didn’t exactly head where I had wanted it to, especially since I really wasn’t a fan of Brian at the end of The Off Season, but somehow Murdock pulled it off without getting me too upset. (That might be due to the fact that it didn’t upset D.J. overly much, either). However, D.J. has a future, that won’t be described to me in a book (at least not specifically in a book about and narrated by D.J.), so I can use my imagination until I can get my hands on Murdock’s book Heaven is Paved with Oreos about Curtis’s girlfriend Sarah!

I highly recommend this series – the books are relatively quick reads, but are excellentely written and take you on an emotional journey with D.J. and the Schwenks that you will not regret.

~Yours Truly

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The Off Season

Title: The Off Season (Book 2 in Dairy Queen)
Author: Catherine Gilbert Murdock
Publisher: HMH Books
Release Date: May 22, 2007

Life is looking up for D.J. Schwenk. She’s in eleventh grade, finally. After a rocky summer, she’s reconnecting in a big way with her best friend, Amber. She’s got kind of a thing going with Brian Nelson, who’s cute and popular and smart but seems to like her anyway. And then there’s the fact she’s starting for the Red Bend High School football team—the first girl linebacker in northern Wisconsin, probably. Which just shows you can’t predict the future. As autumn progresses, D.J. struggles to understand Amber, Schwenk Farm, her relationship with Brian, and most of all her family. As a whole herd of trouble comes her way, she discovers she’s a lot stronger than she—or anyone—ever thought.
This hilarious, heartbreaking and triumphant sequel to the critically acclaimed Dairy Queen takes D.J. and all the Schwenks from Labor Day to a Thanksgiving football game that you will never forget
.

This sequel to Dairy Queen was fantastic! I liked the change of setting, considering that there were a lot less scenes that involved cows present and that there are only so many thoughts a person can have while milking. The book focused on other issues, including family, sports, injuries, love, friends, and much more that you’ll have to read the book to find out about.

The story kept up it realism, which I appreciated. D.J.’s family had it’s own brand of dysfunctionality, but it gave a better sense of them to the readers and developed their characters a lot more. I liked the fact that D.J. was essentially the same person, but her changing outlook on life that had started in the first book continued in this one. I also called the fact that this book had a lot more of Win in it, although it turns out that I like Bill better as an older brother. D.J.’s metaphors and comparisons also have a lot of relevance, again, and there are things that she figures out and puts into words that I know certain people could use to listen to and take to heart. She also grows up a lot in this book, dealing with her family and all the problems that they face; there are young people and even full-grown adults I know who wouldn’t not have been able to deal with her life in the capable way she did, despite the emotional roller-coaster she experienced.

The romantic aspects of the book were interesting, but a little predictable at the same time. I’m sort of glad it happened the way it did; without giving too much away, I hope my prediction for the next book and D.J.’s romantic interests are right and that things continue the way they seem to be heading. D.J. needed this romantic experience, as well as the strength-of-character experience that she both learned and gained from it.

I also liked the conflict that came up with football, and even though I wish things had turned out differently, everything was realistically set and I got seriously invested in D.J.’s future, all things considered. Basically, this was a fantastic sequel, and I can’t wait to start in on the third book; the author has done an awesome job, and I can’t imagine it getting better (even though I’m sure it will)!

~Yours Truly

*Note: Due to mild sexual content and profanity, I do not recommend this book to readers under the age of 12.

Dairy Queen

Title: Dairy Queen (Book 1 in Dairy Queen)
Author: Catherine Gilbert Murdock
Publisher: HMH Books
Release Date: April 30, 2006

When you don’t talk, there’s a lot of stuff that ends up not getting said.
Harsh words indeed, from Brian Nelson of all people. But, D. J. can’t help admitting, maybe he’s right.
When you don’t talk, there’s a lot of stuff that ends up not getting said.
Stuff like why her best friend, Amber, isn’t so friendly anymore. Or why her little brother, Curtis, never opens his mouth. Why her mom has two jobs and a big secret. Why her college-football-star brothers won’t even call home. Why her dad would go ballistic if she tried out for the high school football team herself. And why Brian is so, so out of her league.
When you don’t talk, there’s a lot of stuff that ends up not getting said.
Welcome to the summer that fifteen-year-old D. J. Schwenk of Red Bend, Wisconsin, learns to talk, and ends up having an awful lot of stuff to say.

This book was fantastic. The author set a good pace, and the writing was awesome and very easy to get into with the first person POV. D.J. was a very likable character, and almost immediately I found myself rooting for her. The way that her story-telling develops the plot is intriguing and is definitely the hook for readers. She’ll say things describing a problem and then say, “but I won’t get into that now,” even though you’re dying to know what it is that happened to create that problem. D.J. is a character that strings you along, and you very willingly run to catch up to her – no leash-tugging necessary.

The other characters were great, as well: her mom, Brian, Amber, her dad, and Curtis. I liked Bill’s involvement, too, and even though I wish that we saw a bit more of Win, I have a feeling that he’ll have a more significant presence in the future books. Which is another thing I liked – even though neither Win nor Bill were physically present for most of the book, I felt like they were because of the memories that D.J. shared. I think part of the reason I wanted them in the story so much is because D.J.’s desire to have them back in her life was rubbing off on me, the reader.

The book is a very nice reflection of real life – full of imperfections and errors, but beautiful moments, too. The things that D.J., a relatively simple girl, saw, made so much sense. Her comparisons of people to cows, even though they weren’t exactly elegant (“what if a cow decided one day to climb a tree?”) made complete sense in context and was a perfect metaphor for certain life lessons, like Don’t follow the crowd, but in a way that made the reader want to hear it and make that connection. So although this book was probably aimed at readers a bit younger than me (maybe ages 13-15) it really is a great book for older readers, too.

I’m very excited to start reading the second book, which I actually have right next to me, so I’ll be posting another review soon! I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in contemporary stories, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

~Yours Truly

*Note: Due to mild sexual content, I do not recommend this book to readers under the age of 12.