The Off Season differs quite a bit from Dairy Queen. Where in Dairy Queen, the focus is all on DJ, she is, in some ways, not the central character in The Off Season, playing a more supportive role: sister and daughter. Though I think I was perhaps a bit less interested in the plot of The Off Season than in Dairy Queen or Front Center, which I've already started, I'm also hugely impressed by the content and daring in the subject matter.
Murdock takes some risks with the second book in the series, no question. Right at the very beginning, after the first book in the series was all about D.J. managing to join the boys' football team, she quits. She has reasons, good ones, but it's still anticlimactic after all the build up. However, it's such a mature choice, because, if she didn't stop playing, a minor injury might become a bigger deal and prevent her from playing basketball, which is pretty much her only shot at a scholarship and college. Though it's sad to see her give up on her football, seeing D.J. be so mature and face up so bravely to the judgment of her classmates is inspiring.
The real story here, though, isn't about D.J., though she's central to it and crucial to the way things unfold. Her oldest brother, Win, is injured in a football game, one the whole family was watching live. Injuries happen in football all the time, but this one is life-changing: Win's spinal cord snapped. He will never walk again, and that's just one thing among many that he'll never be able to do again. His dreams have been crushed, and he had a real shot at pro ball. Even with intense physical therapy, he'll probably not regain much use of his body. The Off Season is about Win's injury and the way the Schwenk family pulls together to help him.
D.J. basically puts her whole life on hold to help Win, because no one else in her family can take the time off, since her mother badly injured her back, her father needed to help his wife, her other older brother has football and college, and her younger brother is in middle school. That is so much pressure to put on one teen girl. Win, unsurprisingly, does not take the injury well. D.J. doesn't know what to do with her taciturn brother, but she turns out to be just the right person to help him, with her slow, quiet, determined Schwenk ways. There is so, so much strength in D.J., and she just does not see it yet, but I'm getting ahead of myself since that's what book three is obviously going to be about. Anyway, Murdock tackles Win's injury in this really powerful, emotional way, and goes into a lot of details about the hospital and physical therapy, and that is just so unique in YA fiction.
The romance remains on the back burner, and goes pretty much exactly where I predicted. Brian Nelson's a great guy in some respects, but much to caught up in the expectations of others. Basically, D.J. did not need all of that to deal with while she was trying to get her brother back on his feet. That's life, though, isn't it. In fact, that's what's so great about this series: how real D.J. feels and the whole cast.
The Final Verdict:
I'm continuing to be really impressed with Murdock's Dairy Queen series. The audiobooks are fabulous, accent and all, and I'm already about a quarter of the way through the final book, which I both do and do not want to finish, because I already think it will be my favorite.