D.J. Schwenk has taken on a whole lot for a lone fifteen-year-old girl. Her father has hurt himself working on their farm; her mother is working two jobs; her older brothers are off at college. Someone has to run the farm, and D.J. has agreed to do it - milking the cows, cleaning out the barn, haying - it is hard physical labor, but she's determined to succeed. When a family friend sends Brian, a boy from D.J.'s rival school's football team, to come help out, to say that D.J. is not happy would be a massive understatement.
D.J. and Brian have a history that goes beyond simple football rivalry, including the fact that he and his other rich-kid friends do things like moo at D.J. when she's in town, making fun of her for being a farm girl. Brian is clearly not happy to have to help at the farm, either - it turns out that the family friend who's sent him there is his football coach, and Brian has been told that he won't be on the team unless he works there. The fact that D.J. is in far better physical shape and makes him look like a whiny, ineffectual kid as they go about the farm chores in awkward silence does not help the situation.
When Brian loses his temper and tells D.J. that she is just like the cows on their farm, the way she mindlessly does all this hard work, D.J. is pretty angry. But then, the more she thinks about it, the more everyone seems to be like cows, working at pointless jobs they don't care about. The more she thinks about it, the more she becomes determined not to be a cow, the more she examines what, in fact, she is passionate about, and she starts thinking about the best way for her to pursue that passion.
Despite her ambivalence toward Brian, talking with him does give her a different perspective on her life. She comes from a family that simply doesn't talk about things. Brian points out what at first appears to be blindingly obvious, saying, "When you don't talk, there's a lot of stuff that ends up not getting said." But the more she thinks about those words, the more she realizes how many important things are not getting said - and how very damaging silence can be. There are unspoken words in so many areas of D.J.'s life - between D.J and her father, her best friend, her English teacher, and her brothers. D.J. starts wondering what might happen if, as hard as it seems, she starts to say some of those words.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. D.J.'s voice carries the narrative effortlessly, drawing the reader in as she recounts the vicissitudes of her life with honesty and humor. I loved that the cows on the farm are all named after football players (Joe Namath is D.J.'s favorite), and that her father is determined to pull his weight somehow and decides (to D.J.'s chagrin) to prepare all their meals. I enjoyed D.J.'s evolving relationship with her silent little brother, and I loved the way D.J.'s passion for football gives her the inspiration for leaving all cow-like behavior behind.
This was an engaging book to listen to - I enjoyed Natalie Moore's interpretation of D.J.'s character, complete with her Midwestern accent. I don't believe this qualifies as a series, but there is a sequel called The Off Season, and I very much look forward to reading it.
Dairy Queen by Catherine Gilbert Murdock; narrated by Natalie Moore (Listening Library, 2006)
Also reviewed at:
Book Beetle: "D.J. is a super lovable character and you're rooting for her from the start. A lot of girls would be able to relate to her as she struggles with her self-confidence and new feelings."
Library Queue: "I thought the book was funny, sweet and heart-breaking all at the same time."
There Is Always Something to Read: "A father who doesn't listen, a mother who has secrets of her own, and a girl who loves football, and you have a great story about friendship, love, trust, heartbreak, and determination."
What I'm Reading: "This book IS funny, but not cow in a tiara kind of funny. It's the kind of funny where you recognize the characters and what they are going through and it makes you smile - you KNOW people like this."
And here is an author interview at Shelf Elf.