You know what? I think this one is my favorite of the trilogy. Only with Front and Center does D.J. really come of age. She does her growing up and embraces herself and generally comes to recognize her own awesomeness. Murdock continues to tackle tough issues in a real life way, and again focuses on parts of life you don’t see too much in young adult fiction.
The primary issue for junior D.J. Schwenk is college. Apparently, colleges start recruiting and offering sports scholarships during the junior year of high school, which is intense. D.J. certainly thinks so and can’t really handle it. The scholarship business really looked at the way academics are ignored in the favor of obtaining a gifted athlete, which even D.J. thinks is a screwed up system, as she is offered a full ride to a school that a senior with straight A’s is rejected from. Ultimately, Murdock doesn’t condemn the practice or anything, just points that out for the reader’s own thoughts to take over. Plus, there aren’t many YA novels about the experience of choosing a college from SAT stress to college visits, and that’s a huge part of high school for those who do plan to go to college.
Most people would be thrilled to receive full ride scholarships, especially if they can’t afford to leave their parents’ farm otherwise. Not D.J., though. She does want to get out of Red Bend, but she doesn’t think she’s good enough. Plus, she visited a D1 school and watched a girl lose the game for her team, and D.J.’s convinced she can’t handle the pressure. She wants to go D3, to a tiny school where she can be the big fish in a small pond. Of course, I went to a small school myself, and that’s not wrong in and of itself, but D.J.’s motivation is wrong: fear.
Actually, D.J. not believing herself good enough for what she actually wants is the main theme of Front and Center. On top of college ball, she insists she does not have the skills to be point guard, though it’s obvious to everyone that she does, if she would just open her mouth. In romance, too, D.J. settles for a guy she likes less, because she doesn’t think she’s good enough for the guy she’s actually really into. Through Front and Center, D.J. comes into her own and realizes how much she can handle and how many good things she deserves. After three books, it’s great to watch confidence blooming in D.J..
The romance component does take up more plot space in Front and Center, and, not gonna lie, that was a big inducement. Of course, the romance still doesn’t dominate everything else. D.J. gets herself a love triangle, but a mostly non-obnoxious one. Convinced that Brian Nelson will never be able to publicly admit that he likes her, she prepares to be single, good riddance to romance. Then one of her best guy friends tells her he likes her, and she goes for it, because friends with crushes on you can be confusing. D.J. takes a long time to really look into her heart for what she actually wants, pretty much as worried about the opinions of others as Brian Nelson, though she doesn’t realize. Introspection doesn’t come all that naturally to D.J., who’s more of a doer than a thinker, so all of this throws her for a real loop.
The Final Verdict:
Catherine Gilbert Murdock’s Dairy Queen series is a must read (or listen) for readers looking for more from YA fiction, YA that touches on family, college, LGBT issues, sports and more, not just romance. Having finished the series, D.J. and her family and friends feel so real to me, and I can’t believe I have to leave them behind now. If Murdock were to write a series about D.J. in college, I wouldn’t complain.