Summary - 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.
Review - It wasn't until I was a fair way into this novel that I realised how invested I was in Win and the rest of the Schwenk family. DJ's older brothers, Win and Bill, had been peripheral characters for Dairy Queen and with Win's injury, I realised how much I had bought into the concept of this family that worked a dairy.
The Off Season picks up from where we left off. DJ's successfully integrated into the Red Bend football team, re-established her friendship with Amber, secretly (kinda) dating Brian and juggling all her other responsibilities. Then her life begins to fall apart at the seams. Her mum triggers an old injury, Win gets hurt, Curtis goes off the rails and Brian's being cagey. DJ is required to step up and ultimately be the lynch pin that keeps her family from shattering to pieces.
There is no self-pity in this character and this is what makes Murdock's novels so winning. DJ shares the same self-doubt as many girls in YA, but unlike her fellow protagonists, she doesn't dwell. DJ keeps on keeping on until she can't anymore and then she goes a little further. She realised what she was truly capable of in the previous title but in The Off Season, DJ realises how strong she is, as well as her true worth. She makes some hard decisions in this novel and it's easy to take this character to heart.
If I had to describe Murdock's writing in one word, it would be charming. These books depict how hard life can be on the farm, breaking down barriers, being good to your family and valuing yourself. But she never looses sight of the humour in these situations (rats immediately come to mind).
Rural storytelling with heart.
Format: Paperback, 288 pages
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
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