Title: Dairy Queen (Dairy Queen, #1)
Author: Catherine Gilbert Murdock
Rating: 4 Stars
If Dairy Queen taught me anything, it was, first and foremost, that I am a horrible read-along buddy. Seriously. I was only supposed to read five chapters of this today and I wound up reading all twelve chapters until the end, reading in the hallways, through classes, and on the bus ride back home. Needless to say, it was a little hard for me to put this book down after a point and even now, I can't get it out of my head. Dairy Queen is everything you wish for in a contemporary novel and so much more. It's original. Yes,original! You'd think in a genre dominated by Ruby Oliver and Jessica Darling that we couldn't possibly get another lively, spunky, and heart-warming heroine to join the two, but DJ Shwenk makes a niche for herself.
Dairy Queen is unlike any other contemporary novel I’ve read, simply because it is set on a farm. D.J. Shwenk helps her parents by working on their farm all day, but her rote summer routine is interrupted by the unexpected arrival of Brian Nelson. Brian is the quarterback of the rival high school, Red Bend, which D.J.’s school, Hawley, has practically always lost to. While this may not be such a big deal to most people, to D.J. whose two older brothers are professional football players in college, it certainly is. Thus, their exchange doesn’t quite go as planned and Brian leaves off in a storm – only after letting D.J. know exactly what he thinks of her, of course. D.J.’s life isn’t perfect – her younger brother, Curtis, won’t talk; she flunked English (actually failed); her father’s hip is broken and he can’t cook even though he insists on doing so; her mother is busy and seems to be hiding secrets; Amber, D.J.’s best friend, seems to be more aloof than usual; and of course, D.J.’s older brothers haven’t spoken to her family in a very, very long time. With the help of Brian, her own voice, and a little bit of courage, this summer just could be the one to change D.J.’s life – if only she’ll try.
It’s difficult for me to put into words exactly what I love so much about D.J. Shwenk. I suppose, at the heart of everything, she’s surprisingly real. D.J.’s problems aren’t like most protagonists you’d come across and her voice is heart-warmingly honest, making it a true delight to read. Dairy Queen will make you laugh, it’ll make you smile, it’ll make you cringe, it’ll make you want to bury your face under a pillow, and it’ll make you want to punch people. Yet, by the end of it, it’ll make you so hopeful and happy that your heart just may burst. It’s one of the sweetest novels I’ve read, not only about growing up, realizing your mistakes, and correcting them, but also about family. Dairy Queen isn’t just D.J’s story – it’s the story of her father, her mother, her brothers, and even Brian. It shows us all that everyone is flawed, but despite that, they have the capability to do something about it.
Dairy Queen tackles on a lot of difficult subjects, but it’s never overdone that it takes away from the novel or so pushed under the table that you crave more depth. In fact, the balance Murdock strikes is perfect. Furthermore, the romance in this novel is so subtle that you can’t help but admire it. It is, first and foremost, a friendship and from there it grows in such a way that you could almost miss it if you weren’t paying close enough attention. Although Dairy Queen is a quick book, it’s by no means forgettable and so much about it can brighten up your day just by thinking about it, making it one of those contemporaries you want to thrust into the hands of every unsuspecting person who may walk down the street.
Thus, consider me virtually thrusting this into your unsuspecting hands because even if you don’t comprehend the full scale of the depth this novel provides, it’ll cheer you up for a few hours and truly make you think. Dairy Queen made me look upon my own life and my own family, much like D.J. is forced to reflect upon hers. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that the emotional and educational journey that Dairy Queen took me on, making me pause, contemplate, and wonder both about myself and my family, was what made this novel ring so true with me. It isn’t like Sloppy Firsts where Jessica Darling and I could practically be the same person. It isn’t like Ruby Oliver where Ruby could be my wise older sister, raining down her years of well-learned trouble down on me. It is completely different, completely unique, yet completely heart-warming all the same. Just as D.J. has made her own niche in the world of contemporary fiction, Dairy Queen too will make its own niche – right in your heart.