Monday, February 4, 2013
Review: The Off Season by Catherine Gilbert Murdock
Title: The Off Season (Dairy Queen, #2)
Author: Catherine Gilbert Murdock
Rating: 4.5 Stars
I swear, this series just keeps getting better and better. The Off Season is an incredible follow-up to Dairy Queen and if I wasn't impressed by Murdock's first novel, she's definitely made a fan out of me now. I loved this one! It was realistic, strong, and moved me beyond words. It was a much more gut-wrenching read this time around and I felt like giving D.J. a hug on so many counts. If Dairy Queen is the steady climb to a better life, of realizing the flaws in life and coming to terms with them, of living and loving and making the best of everything, The Off Season is the slow decline back into a valley of despair, with just a hint of light at the end of the tunnel. I love that Murdock's novels ring so true to real life itself and they give contemporary a whole new meaning.
With The Off Season, D.J's life finally seems to be getting back on track. Not only is she seeing Brian Nelson, the incredibly cute quarterback on the rival high school team, but she herself is the star football player of her own school team. Yet, as is expected, things slowly begin to fall apart, but this time, even D.J. can't imagine just how much her very will is about to be put to the test. You see, this is what I love about this series in a nutshell: real. It is all just so very realistic, putting its characters in tough situations and making them come to terms with what's at hand and find the inner strength within themselves to deal with those issues. D.J., better than most other characters I know, is a force to be reckoned with. Of course, she doesn't see herself that way, but truly, D.J. is a solid rock. D.J. is that person who doesn't get fazed in a crisis and who you can count on not only for a shoulder to lean on, but to tell it to you like it is, without sugarcoating anything.
For me, the reason The Off Season was a stronger novel than Dairy Queen was all due to the characters. Dairy Queen was an introduction of sorts to the majority of our secondary characters, but with The Off Season, we see them become far more developed people on their own right, each dealing with their own problems. Perhaps best of all, to me at least, is that we finally meet D.J.'s elusive older brothers. In Dairy Queen, it was mainly the family dynamics between D.J. and her parents that was explored, along with her younger brother Curtis, who plays an interesting role in this novel too. With The Off Season, though, we see more of Bill and Win and learn to understand their side of the story and fall in love with them too. If there's one thing I've learned from The Off Season, it is merely this - that the Schwenks just never give up. Although they're all inherently such different personalities, they all share similar character traits that bond them as a family, even to strangers. It makes me wonder if all families are like this, if you just look close enough.
Murdock outshines when it comes to character development, which is why this contemporary trilogy is such a strong one. Even better, though, is that she isn't afraid to put her characters through tough times and force them to make difficult decisions. A lot of the choices D.J. has to make in this novel aren't easy ones and even though some of them may have been able to be solved with simple conversation, Murdock writes everything so realistically that it is impossible not to see D.J's side of the situation. The Off Season is, to put it bluntly, a heart-breaker. Dairy Queen was a slow build-up of happiness and understanding, but The Off Season is more about finding that inner trove of strength within you to persevere on in life, no matter what life throws at you. This, dear readers, is why D.J. Schwenk is one of my new favorite literary heroines. Strength is what defines her and, in turn, what makes me admire her as much as I do.
Nevertheless, despite the sad situations, difficult choices, and tense moments in this book, there is a lot of happiness and joy in the beginning. Furthermore, the continual importance of football to the Schwenk family is ever-present, making me wish I genuinely did enjoy football more than I do. I've come to regard the Schwenk's as a family much like my own; one with genuine flaws, tender moments, and family unity in times of hardship, despite their struggles with one another and overt distances. In all honesty, they've made a niche for themselves in my heart and it's hard not to look back on this series and just smile - a secret smile that tells the world that you know someone special that they don't. So, really, I can't emphasize enough that you need to meet the Schwenks, even if you're not a fan of football or a fan of much contemporary. Murdock is a brilliant writer, master character-crafter, and all-round genius with plot, which makes this series one that simply cannot be missed.