The Off Season by Catherine Murdock
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Length: Full (288 pgs)
Rating: 4.5 Suns
Review by: Thistle
Life is looking up for D.J. Schwenk. She’s made it to eleventh grade, finally. After a rocky summer, she’s reconnecting 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. Plus there’s the fact that she’s playing for the Red Bend High School football team—the first girl linebacker in northern Wisconsin.
But then the season, which began so well, starts to go suddenly, horribly wrong. As autumn progresses, D.J. struggles to understand what’s happening with football, Brian, Amber, and most of all her family. And as her life turns completely upside-down, she discovers she’s a lot stronger than she—or anyone—ever thought.
This hilarious, heartbreaking, and ultimately triumphant sequel to the acclaimed novel Dairy Queen takes D.J. and all the Schwenks from Labor Day to a Thanksgiving football game that you will never forget.
If you think YA fiction is all Gossip Girl or vampires, consider a side trip to Schwenk farm and spend a little time with D.J. Schwenk, the narrator of both Dairy Queen and The Off Season.
While I think The Off Season works as a stand alone novel, I suggest reading Dairy Queen first. There a few characters and situations from Dairy Queen that are glossed over in The Off Season. But this is minor. D.J., even more so than in Dairy Queen, really comes into her own. How can you not like a narrator who makes observations such as:
It's not such a good idea to go around kissing rival linebackers, at least not in high school football. I wouldn't know about the pros.
Or tags locations with: The Brian Nelson Memorial Make Out Truck Stop. Or title chapters with: Why the Packers Might Not Suck. (Despite living in Wisconsin, the Schwenks are Vikings fans.)
D.J. is an extremely likable character, strong and competent, yet has her share of insecurities and flaws. Ms. Murdock has D.J. confront issues (the financial difficulties of small farms, the sexuality of her best friend, the relationship with Brian) in ways that are real, funny, and bittersweet. For me, it was the combination of all the things I love about a good story: it made me laugh, it made me cry, it made me think.
I highly recommend both Dairy Queen and The Off Season, whether you’re sixteen or just feel like it sometimes on the inside.