The Off Season by Catherine Gilbert Murdock features D.J. Swank, one of the famous Swank siblings of Red Bend, Wisconsin. Not an average 17 year-old, D.J. is the first girl to win a spot on the varsity football team. After surviving a year of taunting from classmates, she has finally been accepted as part of the team and things are beginning to look up. Then D.J. learns her best friend is moving away with her girlfriend, her "kind of" boyfriend, the starting quarterback for her school's bitter football rival seems oddly reluctant to be seen with her, her younger brother begins acting secretively, she overhears her parents arguing about their family farm's lack of solvency, and in the midst of it all somehow ends up profiled in People magazine. It's enough to make a girl crazy. But when her brother suffers a terrifying football accident D.J. learns what is important in life as she is suddenly thrust into the very adult role of caretaker, advisor, and friend.
I was glad to see this title on a freshly cataloged book cart this morning. A sequel to Dairy Queen, The Off Season begins where Dairy Queen ended, the beginning of D.J.'s junior year in high school. Dealing with very real teenage issues of boyfriends, family, sexuality, and school, this book has wonderfully flawed and insightful characters that invite readers along for the ride. Murdock's dialogue and descriptions of Win's injury and subsequent rehabilitation have a stinging ring of truth (see author acknowledgements) lending credence to the family's reaction. The ending is not sugarcoated or insulting to the reader; D.J. grows both with, and away from, some of her preconceived notions of family and friendship. This is another winner.