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The Off Season

November 22, 2009

The Off Season by Catherine Gilbert Murdock (Sequel to Dairy Queen)
published by Houghton Mifflin Books for Children June 4, 2007

D.J. Schwenk is not your typical sixteen-year-old. For one thing, she is six feet tall. She is also the only girl on the Red Bend High School football team, and probably the first girl linebacker in Northern Wisconsin. While she’s doesn’t see herself as “book smart,” she is an exceptionally gifted athlete and helps run her family’s struggling dairy farm.

As The Off Season opens, D.J. is reconnecting with her best friend Amber and Amber’s girlfriend and first love, Dale. She is also savoring her first romance with Brian, the sweet, handsome linebacker for a rival high school’s football team. In contrast with the Schwenks, who tend to be silent about their hopes, fears, and affections, Brian and his family talk freely about their feelings. D.J. admires his courage and revels in his ability to talk openly.

D.J.’s one hope of getting out of Red Bend is to earn a basketball scholarship and go to college. However a football injury jeopardizes that. She is also absorbing additional responsibilities due to her mom’s back injury. Then an unexpected tragedy strikes the family which might permanently put an end to D.J.’s plans for her own life.

I loved this book just as much as I loved Dairy Queen. It stood out for the authenticity of D.J.’s voice — I really believed I was hearing the words and thoughts of a sixteen-year-old girl, not bookishly clever but capable and, at times, remarkably wise. The most powerful part of the story, however, was D.J. herself. This character is both ordinary and exceptionally strong and courageous. I think this element — the extraordinary compassion and bravery of ordinary people, in difficult circumstances — is what makes it great fiction. I recommend this novel to pre-teens, teens and adult lovers of realistic novels.

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