Sixteen-year-old D.J. (short for Darlene Joyce) Schwenk's family knows a lot about two things: football and farming. Dairy farming, to be exact. D.J.'s dad even names his cows after famous NFL players and coaches. D.J.'s two older brothers, football legends in their small Wisconsin town, are now in college on football scholarships, but they no longer talk to D.J.'s family after an argument that led to the silent treatment. Silence is actually a big problem in D.J.'s family: "If there's a problem or something, instead of solving it or anything, we just stop talking. Just like cows."
D.J. herself is getting frustrated with the whole farming thing. Her dad's too stubborn to have surgery on his hip, so D.J.'s stuck with the milking and haying. D.J.'s mother and younger brother aren't much help, either; they seem to have secrets of their own, and of course no one's talking to anyone else.
Then, out of the blue, Brian Nelson enters D.J.'s life. The quarterback for a rival high school, Brian is sent to the Schwenk farm by his coach to learn a little discipline and hard work. At first, D.J. can't stand Brian, who seems to spend all his time talking on his cell phone, shirking his duties and blaming other people for his problems. When D.J. uses her own football knowledge to train Brian, though, she discovers another side to him, a side that gets D.J. talking—and thinking—about her own life like never before.
This funny, heartfelt first novel features a heroine and a setting unlike most other novels for teens. D.J. is honest and smart, a normal-sized girl who can value her strength and her skills without obsessing about her weight, her clothes or her makeup. Humorous details about farm work and small-town life, recounted in D.J.'s own down-to-earth tone, help to paint a realistic picture. The novel doesn't shy away from portraying small-town prejudices and loyalties in equal measure, giving readers a glimpse into a way of life that's virtually invisible in most other young adult fiction.
Norah Piehl is a freelance writer and editor in the Boston area. Copyright 2006 BookPage Reviews.
Horn Book Guide Reviews 2006 Fall
Coaching the rival high school's quarterback in a summer fitness program, farmgirl D.J. realizes she's attracted to Brian; winning a place as a defensive linebacker for her own school, D.J. realizes she'll face Brian on the field. D.J.'s practical, understatedly humorous voice drives this memoir of her fifteenth summer--an engrossing tale of love, family, and football. Copyright 2006 Horn Book Guide Reviews.
Horn Book Magazine Reviews 2006 #3
Tall and strong from tossing bales of hay on her Red Bend, Wisconsin, farm, D.J. Schwenk also has a practical, understatedly humorous voice that drives this first-person memoir of her fifteenth summer. D.J. has shouldered the work of running the family dairy farm since her dad got injured and her brothers went to school on football scholarships, but her routine gets a jolt when she's offered the chance to coach Brian Nelson, quarterback for rival Hawley High School, in a summer fitness program. Gradually, it dawns on D.J. that she is intensely attracted to Brian, self-centered and privileged though he is. Jazzed by her coaching success and tired of doing what's expected of her, D.J. tries out for the Red Bend football team and wins a place as a defensive linebacker, which means she'll face Brian on the field. The tale's grounding in Midwestern practicality contrasts agreeably with D.J.'s ongoing epiphanies -- about her laconic family and her especially taciturn brother, her best friend's coming out, her role on an all-male team, her relationship with Brian, and her future plans. This extremely likable narrator invites readers into her confidence and then rewards them with an engrossing tale of love, family, and football. Copyright 2006 Horn Book Magazine Reviews.
Kirkus Reviews 2006 April #2
A painfully funny novel takes readers into the head of D.J. Schwenk, frustrated dairy farmer-cum-football trainer-cum-star linebacker. D.J. comes from a football family: Her two older brothers were legends in high school; her father used to coach. But ever since her father took out his hip, the responsibility for the farm has fallen on her shoulders, causing her to quit basketball and track and to fail sophomore English. When a family friend who coaches the rival team sends her his cocky quarterback for training over the course of one grueling summer, she learns more about her own capabilities and desires than she thought possible. This sounds like any other coming-of-age novel, but D.J.'s voice is hilariously introspective, the revelation that she lives life like a cow-"I just did what my parents told me, and my coaches, and [my friend], and [my dog] even. . . . I was nothing but a cow on two legs"-guiding both D.J. and readers through her growing friendship with the obnoxious quarterback and her decision to do the unexpected: play football. A fresh teen voice, great football action and cows-this novel rocks. (Fiction. YA)First printing of 75,000 Copyright Kirkus 2006 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.
Publishers Weekly Reviews 2006 May #3
Finally, a football book a girl can love. With wry, self-deprecating wit, D.J. Schwenk narrates this story of her 15th summer. With her older brothers at college on football scholarships, and her father nursing a bad hip, most of the grueling work necessary to keep a small dairy farm running has fallen on D.J.'s broad shoulders. She had to quit basketball halfway through the season, and neglecting her homework earned her an F in sophomore English. Now, in addition to mucking out the barn and bringing in the hay, a family friend who coaches the rival high school's football team, has asked D.J. to train his talented but lazy starting quarterback, Brian Nelson. Brian may have brains, money and looks, but he's going to learn the meaning of hard work from D.J. And he, in turn, will teach D.J. how to communicate. (The way D.J. internalizes his observation of her, "You're like a cow," provides an ironic thread throughout.) This is Romeo and Juliet in Wisconsin, with cows, but it's more comic than tragic. Teens will readily identify with D.J.'s struggle to articulate her feelings of anger, confusion and romance within a family where silent, stalwart self-reliance is valued above all else. Murdock takes no cheap shotsevery character she creates is empathetic: the electively mute younger brother, Curtis, the jaded best friend, Amber, even cranky, cold Dad, who finds his place (in the kitchen) when injury sidelines him. With humor, sports action and intelligence abundant, this tale has something for everyone. Ages 12-up. (May) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Publishers Weekly Reviews 2007 June #1
"With humor, sports action and intelligence abundant," this story about a girl who teaches the meaning of hard work to a smart but lazy quarterback (while he teaches her how to communicate) "has something for everyone," said PW in a starred review. Ages 12-up. (June) Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal Reviews 2006 April
Gr 7-10 -After her father is injured, 15-year-old D.J. Schwenk takes over the lion's share of work on her family's small Wisconsin dairy farm. Between milking cows, mucking out the barn, and mowing clover, this erstwhile jock takes on training Brian, the rival high school's quarterback. A monster crush and a tryout for her own school's football team ensue. D.J., a charming if slightly unreliable narrator, does a good deal of soul-searching while juggling her grinding work schedule, an uncommunicative family, and a best friend who turns out to be gay. Savvy readers will anticipate plot turns, but the fun is in seeing each twist through D.J.'s eyes as she struggles with whether she really is, as Brian puts it, like a cow headed unquestioningly down the cattle shoot of life. Wry narration and brisk sports scenes bolster the pacing, and D.J.'s tongue-tied nature and self-deprecating inner monologues contribute to the novel's many belly laughs. At the end, though, it is the protagonist's heart that will win readers over. Dairy Queen will appeal to girls who, like D.J., aren't "girly-girls" but just girls, learning to be comfortable in their own skins. The football angle may even hook some boys. Fans of Joan Bauer and Louise Rennison will flock to this sweet confection of a first novel, as enjoyable as any treat from the real DQ.-Amy Pickett, Ridley High School, Folsom, PA[Page 145]. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.