Front and Center (Dairy Queen #3)
But it turns out other folks have big plans for D.J. Like her coach. College scouts. All the town hoops fans. A certain Red Bend High School junior who’s keen for romance and karaoke. Not to mention Brian Nelson, who she should not be thinking about! Who she is done with, thank you very much. But who keeps showing up anyway . . .
Readers first fell in love with straight-talking D. J. Schwenk in Dairy Queen; they followed her ups and downs both on and off the court in The Off Season. Now D. J.steps out from behind the free-throw line in this final installment of the Dairy Queen trilogy.
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.
DJ Schwenk from Dairy Queen and Off Season returns in the final book of the Dairy Queen trilogy. In the book, shes confronted with the trauma of dealing with boyfriends, basketball and college.
If you recall Dairy Queen, over the summer she coached Brian Nelson, a rival school quarterback, and fell in love. However, being from rival schools didnt help the relationship. In Off Season, her brother, Win, incurred a paralyzing hit in a football game and DJs family is consumed with getting him through the ordeal. DJ, realizing her relationship with Brian is fraught with failure, breaks up with him and refuses to even talk to him.
In Front and Center, DJ starts dating Beaner, her best friend, but the spark isnt there. She keeps thinking of Brian. Win is hounding her to call college coaches and tell them shes interested in playing Division I basketball, which shes not. Her coach is pushing her to assume a more leadership role on the team. Everyone is telling her what to do&their opinion, what they want. Its only Brian, who she begins talking to, who tells her what he thinks is best for her.
Murdock continues her saga of DJ growing up and it is best if you have read the first two books in the series. DJ must learn how to handle life, or maybe realize that she has been handling it all along, probably better than most kids her age. DJ has a nice, easy way about her, which makes her an endearing character. All Front and Center characters are real. You can imagine them being your family and friends. The dilemmas that DJ goes through are real enough. The outcome is totally predictable. I loved Dairy Queen and liked Off Season a lot. Although, Front and Center kept my interest, it wasnt as absorbing as the first two books. It didnt have the zing, the crises, story line of its forerunners. DJ fans will enjoy finding out what happens. Other readers? Consider this a good, easy read.
As always, Murdock’s characterization is what sells the whole show. D.J. Schwenk, for me, is a relatable everyday girl who’s flawed but has a good heart. I love her more than I can say. D.J.’s family is also amazing—they’re not the most functional, and they’re not touchy-feeling people, but they’re family, and they care for each other. D.J.’s classmates and friends, teammates, coaches, neighbors—all amazing, nice people who maybe aren’t the best but still mean well most of the time.
While Dairy Queen was mostly about working on the farm and training for football, and The Off Season was about D.J.’s brother’s injury and physical therapy, Front and Center is all about D.J. and her future. Basically, will she play Division I basketball, or will she let her fear get the best of her? Over three books Murdock has shown a steady growth in D.J.’s character, and by the end of this final installment, I was so proud of D.J. and her choices. Sometimes I wanted to strangle her for just being herself, but then you remember that without those “I want to hurt you, D.J.” moments, she wouldn’t be the amazing character she is.
This review is going to be short because at this point, there’s not much I can say. I love this series. I love D.J. Schwenk. These books bring out a new side of contemporary YA—Front and Center is not a “dark issues book” or a “fluffy teen romance”. This book is real, and that’s why it (and the entire series) is amazing.