TEEN LIBRARIAN'S REVIEW:
Ok, before I go any further and give you some details and all, let me just say that I loved this book! And I don't even care all that much about football, which D.J. Schwenk, "Dairy Queen's" heroine, basically lives and breathes. But that's alright. For all you football haters out there, I can assure you that you'll adore D.J. and that you will laugh and smile and cringe right along with her.
Need some more details? Fair enough. D.J. is in the summer after 10th grade, a school year that was brutally difficult for her. Her father had a hip operation, her two college football playing brothers basically abandoned the family after a huge fight, her mom took on an extra job, and D.J. had to quit the basketball team in order to keep the family's Wisconsin dairy farm running. And, as if all that isn't enough, D.J. flunked English, too.
As the summer starts, D.J. is milking cows, baling hay, painting the barn, and, again, almost singlehandedly running the farm. One of her favorite cows, Joe Namath (her football-loving dad names all the cows for football players and coaches) is near death, causing D.J. to reevaluate her own life. Is D.J. herself just a cow, standing in her stall and doing everything she's told until, one day, she'll no longer be useful?
Family friend Jimmy Ott, coach of the rival football team in Hawley, sends over the team's quarterback, the rich, lazy, and somewhat obnoxious Brian Nelson, to work on the Schwenk farm. After some initial bumps, D.J. decides to train Brian when her dad is away at physical therapy each day. D.J. knows tons about football from her dad and older brothers, and she's a pretty good athlete herself. Soon enough, Brian and D.J. are running miles, doing sit-ups, and catching passes in a mini football field out on the farm. D.J., who thinks of herself as different or wrong because she's big, quiet, "stupid," and not terribly girly, finds herself having a great time each day with Brian. And Brian, who at first appears to be just another rich jock, starts to show D.J. a whole lot more.
I won't give away too much else, other than to say that all of D.J.'s training that summer — and the peace and contentment she feels while doing it — leads her to make an incredibly bold decision, particularly for a person who shies away from the spotlight. D.J. decides to try out for the Red Bend football team. The Red Bend boys' football team.
This is truly a fantastic coming-of-age story. D.J. never comes off as whiny or bitter, despite all her extra burdens, but simply as sad, lonely, and frustrated. Who can't relate? Still, despite all that, she maintains an optimistic streak, takes chances, and finally begins to become her own person, all in very realistic and touching ways. There's also a very nice subplot involving D.J.'s mostly silent younger brother, Curtis, which creates some super heartfelt moments. Plus, in case you couldn't figure this out from the description, D.J. ends up falling pretty badly for Brian, and I guarantee you will root for her romance.
My one and only complaint is that the book ends rather abruptly, even before the regular football season begins. But fear not! The sequel, "The Off Season," is already out, so you can continue to follow D.J.'s story without missing a beat. As for the audience for "Dairy Queen," there are some drinking references and scenes in the book, but they're not at all graphic or intense. D.J.'s romance with Brian is also incredibly clean, and there's very little tough language. I'd say girls in 7th grade and up, particularly those who enjoy sports themselves, will adore this book.