At the beginning of the novel, D.J. has everything going for her. She’s on great terms with her best friend Amber and Amber’s girlfriend, Dale (who, by the way, it totally cool). She’s an accepted and valuable member of the football team. She’s forged a sort-of relationship with rival quarterback Brian. Her family is communicating a little better than before. All around, things are looking up.
But then everything—literally everything—slides into a disaster-zone, and D.J. is left picking up the pieces and doing the best she can to do the right thing. And it’s tough, since the only person she can really rely on is herself. Watching D.J. react and respond under a mountain of bad situations was amazing, since I think Murdock did a great job in working on the character’s pre-existing development and growing from there. D.J. truly learns from her mistakes and evolves as a person, and over the course of two books I’ve come to really admire and respect who she is as a person. She’s such a great character, and that was really highlighted for me in The Off Season.
Honestly, this book comes down to characters and how magnificently they interact with one another and how flawed and authentic they are. D.J. and her family aren’t perfect. Love interest Brian is definitely not perfect. Amber, a gay teen in a small, rural town, is faced with issues that are nothing to sneeze at. And because of their problems—internal and external—these people are so heartwarmingly real that I couldn’t help but love them. If they were not who they are, this novel would not have a story. I think this series is one of the most solid examples of character-driven storytelling I’ve seen. The progression of the plot is completely reliant on the characters’ personalities and choices.
I loved this book. Obviously. The Off Season is a heartbreaking, charming, honest novel about living in a small town and being yourself. It’s about helping other people even when you don’t want to, and it’s about letting go when it’s time to do that. I think it’s a safe bet that there’s not a novel about dairy farmers that nearly as poignant as this one.