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—it's a family joke, actually, that us Schwenk kids could go to school naked on picture day, we're all so crazy tall. But I mean I was returning to the background of life. Where no one would really notice me or talk about me or even talk to me much except to say things like "Nice shot," and I could just hang out without too many worries at all.
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...
What's going to happen if she lets these people down? What's going to happen when she does? Because let's face it: there's no way, on the court or off, that awkward, tongue-tied D.J. Schwenk can manage all this attention. No way at all. Not without a brain transplant. Not without breaking her heart. Goodreads.
Review -Whereas the first two novels in the Dairy Queen series beautifully articulated the life of a female athlete, Front and Center felt lazy in comparison. The stakes were higher in the previous titles, or the urgency seemed greater. This title chose to represent DJ's struggles in an introspective, self deliberating style that failed to match the movement and pace of its predecessors.
College is a big deal, I am not dismissing that but it is difficult to engage with it as DJ's core issue when she has colleges falling over her and she remains apathetic. By mid point of the novel, I didn't care where she chose to go (or if at all) just as long as the repetitive conversations about college and her self doubt stopped. Yes, this is realistic but it wasn't depicted (or discussed) in a way that captured this reader's interest.
Another issue was the romance between DJ and Brian. The football roadblock has been removed but DJ's relationship with Beaner makes life more complicated. Of course this development evolves into one of jealousy and yearning. The one non-cliche aspect is Beaner's reactions and maturity to it all. DJ's conflicted feelings manifest in actions that result in this reader respecting the character a whole lot less. It also felt inconsistent with the development of the character, no matter how strong her feelings were for Brian. For a character who is all class, her choices were distinctly classless.
Ultimately Front and Center is a bit of a slog. It lacks the spark and propulsion of the other novels and as such feels distinctly forced. The coaching subplot didn't work in the way it could have. It rendered the novel leaden in its attempts to further shine DJ's halo.
An anti climatic finale to an otherwise sterling trilogy exploring athleticism, confidence and empowerment.
Published: October 2009
Format: Hardcover, 254 pages
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Books for Children