Dairy Queen by Catherine Gilbert Murdoch
Genre: Realistic fiction, YA
Dairy Queen was heart-felt and real, with a protagonist who was both hilarious, humanly flawed, and relatable.
DJ Schwenk is on the cusp of her junior year of high school, but with her dad’s hip injury, her mom’s work schedule, and her older brothers away at college on football scholarships, management of the family dairy farm has fallen solely to her. She finds herself working dawn till dusk to keep the farm afloat. It isn’t until the spoiled, rich brat Brian Nelson, quarter back of her rival town’s football team, is sent to help her work that she begins to question her lot in life and what it is that she truly wants.
There aren’t many YA novels that deal with farming and the integral piece sports play in many people’s lives in rural America. I imagine that has to do with the fact that most writers are not sports people, and that many sports people are not writers. Yet Murdock presents us with a protagonist who is not bookish, doesn’t consider herself smart, and whose whole world is rooted in football. Her father played in high school and in the army. Both her brothers were stars in high school and are rising in college ball as well, with hopes of the NFL. She knows everything there is to know about dairy farming and football. And that was refreshing.
DJ’s voice is at times humorous and at times heart-breaking as we watch her wrestle with a broken family, a broken farm, and feeling “like a cow,” always doing what she is told. I think the most compelling part of this book is that the characters are flawed in intensely human ways. We all know people like DJ, like Brian, like Curtis, like Mr. and Mrs. Schwenk. These portrayals show us that people are not perfect, especially not the people we love. But it also shows redemption in those relationships.
I loved that DJ defied stereotypes by trying out for the football team, but at the same time retaining a complete sense of her femininity. She is a woman who loves football and is as strong as any of the boys in her life.
Don’t be fooled by the cover, this book is a heart-felt and well written. It brought me back to my own high school days and had me laughing and crying throughout.