Thursday, 7 June 2012

Book Review: Dairy Queen by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

First published in: 2006
By: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company

When you don’t talk, there’s a lot of stuff that ends up not getting said.

Harsh words indeed, from Brian Nelson of all people. But, D. J. Schwenk can’t help admitting to herself that maybe he’s right. Because it's obvious that no one is talking about why D. J.'s best friend, Amber, isn’t so friendly anymore. Or why her little brother, Curtis, never opens his mouth. Or why her mom has two jobs, or why her college-football-star brothers don't call home. And certainly no one is talking about how D. J.'s dad would go ballistic if she tried out for the football team. There's definitely a lot not being said. And that's not even mentioning the many reasons that Brian Nelson is out of D. J.'s league.

Welcome to the summer that fifteen-year-old D. J. Schwenk of Red Bend, Wisconsin, learns to talk, and ends up having an awful lot of stuff to say.

My review:

The best thing about book blogging is all the great books I've been introduced to; there are so many books that I never would have even heard of, that have become absolute favourites. To this happy list, I add Dairy Queen.

Like the Jessica Darling series and the Ruby Oliver series, a simple description of Dairy Queen doesn't make it sound like anything special: It's just the story of a teen girl, trying to grow up and deal with family and friends and boys. What makes these books special is the refreshingly authentic character voice they are each written in. D. J. Schwenk is another heroine who won me over immediately. D. J.'s atypical of most YA heroines - she's not real book smart and she doesn't know fancy words or use poetic turns-of-phrase, but her plain-speaking style never seems flat; it's honest, charming and extremely witty in its own way. Example:

"If there ever was a TV show called People Who Are Crazy and Need to Have Their Heads Examined, I'd be the very first guest. They'd put me on one of those couches and a guy with a beard and funny accent would ask me questions, and the audience would ooh and aah as they realized this girl was crazy. What else would explain what I had just done?"

I love D. J. lots and lots. She's so self-deprecating and down-to-earth, not to mention hard-working - she's running her family's farm almost single-handed and just reading about the 5am starts and the heavy lifting made me shudder. In addition to that, D. J.'s helping to train rich kid Brian Nelson for the next season of football, when she really wishes she could be the one playing. D. J.'s basically doing everything for everybody else and nothing for herself.

The defining things in D. J.'s world - American football and farming - don't interest me one iota, but they don't have to. D. J.'s family revolves around football; her father used to play, her brothers play and she wants to play, but it's like Friday Night Lights, where you don't have to care about the game, only care about the characters and what happens to them. I was really impressed by the way Catherine Gilbert Murdock takes a cute coming-of-age tale and weaves in deeper themes. As you can probably tell from the synopsis, communication is the key one and pretty much all the conflict in the story comes from the characters not saying what's on their minds. So Dairy Queen is not really a story about how much D. J. wants football, but how she learns to express what it is she wants.

There's also some interesting exploration of gender roles, too. I almost teared up at the moment when it becomes apparent that even the adults are hopelessly trapped by gender expectations and don't feel free to be themselves.

And D. J. and Brian! They have shot up the list of my favourite YA couples ever. They're friends, they're equals and they 'get' each other. I ordered the next book straightaway because I have to know what happens between them.

I hope I'm selling Dairy Queen. I don't know how to get across everything that it is: funny, serious, light, deep, sad, uplifting, romantic, of YA's great heroines, a unique writing style and a book you really must read now.

Rating: 4.5 stars


  1. This book sounds great, I like that quote! I am in need of a book that is like this. *adding to TBR list*

    1. I'm convinced you'll like it, Jess. I think it's exactly your kind of book!

  2. You have definitely sold me! I must admit that I have had this novel sitting on my shelf/TBR pile for a long time now. The description didn't quite have me sold as something to read NOW, but your review has renewed my interest in it. Great review!

    1. Pick it up and read it! It's a really quick read, and it'll put you in a good mood.

  3. I struggle with a lot of contemps (Why are things not blowing up, where is the magic and life and death risks?) but you've kind of sold me on this one, especially if it's anything like Jessica Darling.


If you visit this blog, please comment! I really do appreciate and read every one and try to answer back as much as possible.