Sunday Afternoon Visits: June 24
The Wonderful Thing About Hiccups: Cece Meng

The Off Season: Catherine Murdock

I was eager to read Catherine Murdock's The Off Season, sequel to Dairy Queen, because I loved the first book. The Off Season picks up right where Dairy Queen left off. Quiet, determined D.J. attends the Jorgensen's annual Labor Day picnic and starts her junior year in high school. School is a bit different for her now, because she's playing on the school football team. As a girl. So she gets more attention than she's used to. It's mostly positive attention, because she's good at football. So the year starts out well for D.J. Things really look up when the handsome rival quarterback, Brian (featured in the previous book), begins treating her as more than just a friend.

But alas, things start to go downhill from there. An injury makes D.J. question whether or not she can continue playing football. D.J.'s best friend, Amber, is wrapped up in a new girlfriend, causing some strain. D.J.'s favorite brother, Curtis, is sneaking around and lying to the family, and their mother throws out her back from the stress. Not to mention Brian's evident reluctance to be seen with D.J. out in public. And then a real tragedy occurs, changing everything for D.J. and her family.

Oh, how I love the Schwenk family. They are dysfunctional, but in a non-toxic, quirky sort of way. D.J. has to take on responsibilities well beyond her years because she's the only one physically and mentally capable of doing so. Her mother is laid low by the back injury. Her father's inability to help is based solely on his personal limitations, which D.J. accepts as part and parcel of who he is. As for D.J., she grows up tremendously over the course of a few difficult months. Here are a couple of examples that capture D.J.'s understanding of her family:

"Mom made it back from her walk, all pink and dripping and holding her back, which apparently doesn't like puffing so much. At least she didn't seem mad at me anymore. Sometimes time apart is just the same as an apology. It is in our family, anyway." (Chapter 10)

""Oh. Okay," Mom said, a hundred questions in her voice. Questions she couldn't ask because that's not our family." (Chapter 14)

I also enjoyed watching D.J.'s unfolding relationship with Brian, and her eventual understanding of the cause of Curtis's strange behavior. While I saw both resolutions coming, more or less, I still appreciated watching D.J. figure things out in her own way. And I promise, readers will appreciate the Curtis story.

But I think what I love most about The Off Season, as with Dairy Queen, is D.J.'s voice (both books are told in the first person, as D.J. looks back to summarize recent events). She's funny, in an offhand, shy sort of way, and completely genuine. It's hard to believe (and a bit sad to realize) that she isn't a real person. Here are just a few of my favorite examples:

"You know the expression "fall down laughing"? I actually did. I was laughing so hard, standing there on my little pitcher's mound, that after a while my knees didn't work and I had to lie down and try to breathe as I watched Curtis getting dragged around the bases. It was, hands down, the funniest thing I've ever seen." (Chapter 1)

""He shook his head. There are times when I'm next to someone and I don't feel incredibly taller than that person, and bigger too. This was not one of those times." (Chapter 3)

"Thinking back, I can't remember ever being that happy, straight happy, like I was that day. I mean, I get excited enough watching sports and doing them, but it wasn't the same. Maybe you can understand the difference." (Chapter 4)

"It's not such a good idea to go around kissing rival linebackers, at least not in high school football. I wouldn't know about the pros." (Chapter 6)

All in all, I like The Off Season at least as much as I liked Dairy Queen. I would recommend it to anyone, but especially to people looking for a strong coming of age story, filled with both heart and humor. Catherine Murdock can bring tears to my eyes, and then have me laughing on the next page. I don't know if there are any plans for it, and I admit that we leave D.J. with most loose ends fairly well wrapped up, but I would still love to see another chapter in her story. Highly, highly recommended for young adult and adult readers.

Book: The Off Season
Author: Catherine Gilbert Murdock
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Original Publication Date: June 4, 2007
Pages: 288
Age Range: 13 and up
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
Other Blog Reviews:  The Longstockings (by Jenny Han), Becky's Book Reviews, Oops...Wrong Cookie (by Michelle)

© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.