Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Review: Front and Center by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

Title: Front and Center (Dairy Queen, #3) 

Author: Catherine Gilbert Murdock 

Rating: 3.5 Stars

I just want to say, before I start this review, that if you plan to read this series, or just one book from this series, on a read-along...DON'T. I kid you not, but the Dairy Queen Series is THE WORST book you could pick for a read-along because you just cannot. Stop. Reading. IT'S IMPOSSIBLE! I know because I've tried...for THREE BOOKS! It's HOPELESS! *throws hands up and stalks away*

Anyway, that being said, this is also one of those series you just HAVE to read because it is simple amazing. I love it. D.J. Schwenk is a heroine who is compelling, unique, and her voice is so relate-able, despite the fact that she lives on a farm, wakes up early morning to milk cows, and is the only girl to play football on her team. Front and Center, I can assure fans of the series, does not disappoint in terms of a conclusion at all. In fact, I found the romance to be resolved perfectly and it was heartwarming to see the full circle the Schwenk family had made since the beginning of our time with them.

BUT, I will say that out of the three books in this series, The Off Season, Book 2, is the strongest. It was heartfelt, deep, and truly brought together the bonds of the Schwenk family and D.J.'s maturity. In many ways, I still feel as if the ending of The Off Season is perfect in a bittersweet way - because, you know, I like those endings. While I still did enjoy Front and Center immensely, I do think that it failed to impress me as much as its predecessor.

For one, I have to admit to being disappointed by a certain lack of family in this story. Murdock's trilogy has been so well-loved, by me at least, because of its strong focus on the Schwenk family, their growth, development, and realistic tendencies. While I hasten to reassure readers that all this is still very much prevalent in this last novel - including some utterly heartwarming mother-daughter bonding scenes - I still came away unimpressed. With The Off Season, Murdock had established a strong relationship between D.J. and her two older brothers. Win and Bill are still strong presences in this novel who had a huge impact on D.J.'s life decisions, especially the former, but I didn't feel this bond as strongly as I wished. It's not that it wasn't there, but simply that it wasn't as deep as I remembered.

Next, I really do have a fight to pick with the unrealistic portrayal of college in this story. As an American student undergoing the process of finding colleges and applying to them, D.J.'s journey is simply too convenient, unrealistic, and a little grating for teens to read about. In Front and Center, D.J. is vying for a basketball scholarship and, after getting an article published about her in People magazine, she has floods of letters from colleges, requesting her to contact them, and even has Division-I college coaches actively seeking her out in her school itself. (Note: D.J. is a junior while this is happening and she hasn't even written her SATs yet when she begins to receive scholarship offers! Yeah, this doesn't happen in America. I wish.)

While all this is a vastly unrealistic experience to go through, I do have to commend Murdock for making D.J.'s reactions to these events as realistic as possible. You see, D.J. is still confused and distressed because although she has a variety of options before her (and never even had to research colleges with the programs she wanted), she still faces a drastic inner battle. Despite being an incredible basketball player, D.J. is unsure of joining the competitive Division-I league of players. Although Murdock writes about sporty kids who are athletically talented, I find that I can relate to their issues, which I love. Plus, D.J. really gets out of her comfort zone in this novel, learning to talk to other people and make friends [who are, you know, not just Amber or Brian or Beaner or other guys who play sports but actual GIRLS who maybe like to do math in their spare time (although what kind of person LIKES to do math??)].

Front and Center is a great novel and a fantastic conclusion to a delightful trilogy, but I did wish for more family bonding in this one, not to mention a more realistic portrayal of colleges and going about the college process. It seemed a little convenient, in my eyes. Plus, it's also so nice for D.J. that because colleges don't care about her SATs or grades she can just skip school to visit colleges while the rest of us have to schedule college visits when we don't have AP Bio Lab or AP Physics Tests or, you know, a composition for AP French. (Sorry, I am seriously SO BITTER that my life isn't as easy as D.J.'s is! >.< )

Bottom Line? Read the series. Murdock's writing is impeccable, her characterization spot-on, and her books sure to put a smile on your face. I find that this is one series that simply does not disappoint and its originality makes it stand out from the usual contemporary read. If you skip out on this series, believe me when I say you are missing out - majorly.


  1. I have to agree about the readalong thing. I think I finished all three books in about a day and a half. But because of that, I simply don't remember a difference between the second and the third-in my head, they are all one big, wonderful story.
    I remember really enjoying the clean and precise writing and DJ's realistic feelings and reactions.

    And I couldn't agree with you more: what kind of person actually enjoys MATH? Not me, no siree Bob.
    Fantastic review, my darling.

  2. You reminded me of a lot of my thoughts regarding this book when I read it. Although the first paragraph of your review DID scare me a bit... I thought you were discouraging people from reading the series, but then I was like, wait a minute, that can't be right, because you were reviewing the LAST book! O_O

    Anyway, I agree that the second book was the strongest, and DJ's path to college here was portrayed too easily, but man, I'm just a sucker for happy outcomes for DJ. :)

  3. I've read the reviews for the first two books in this series but this is the first review I'm reading for this book. I have this series on my to read list and I hope to read them soon as I've heard only great things about it. Great review :)

  4. Lol, I saw you trying to keep to the read-along schedule, and how difficult you all found it! The first time I saw this series I thought it looked too fluffy and not something I'd enjoy, but all the positive reviews I've seen have convinced me that I absolutely need to read this. I'm glad you did enjoy Front and Centre despite the issues. Wonderful review, Keertana! :)

  5. Hahahaha I love that you can't stop reading these Keertana! It's always fun to run across a series that has that effect. It's also expensive when it happens, but worth it in the end:) I really need to read this series! It seems like book 2 is the universal favorite, but this one seems like a solid read (unrealistic college application issues aside). I definitely don't want to miss out!

  6. That college application process does sound a little unrealistic. You wouldn't get anything like that in England either. I would know. ;) I'm glad you liked this on the whole, Keertana, even though it wasn't your favourite of the series. Now that I have a copy of the first book, I definitely plan to get started on it myself soon. :) Fantastic review!

  7. Noted: do not read this as a read-a-long! I will be selfish and read them all by myself :D

    This is a series I have been hearing about for years and now that I know you love them too, it makes me sad that I have taken so long to get to them!

  8. I've been stalking your updates for this series - yes I am a creeper, yes I know it - and I really need to get my hands on it soon. The protagonist sounds awesome and I love the setup for them.

    And - a series that actually ends well? Those are so hard to find lately!

    Love the review - as excellent and detailed as ever.

  9. I shall definitely be reading this at some point. Luckily I don't do many read alongs, so I shouldn't have that problem.

    Oooh, that does sound convenient in terms of college. I wish I'd get tonnes of scholarship letters flooding to me! *sigh* Sadly that is not the case. I have to agree with you about tad bitterness, but maybe she doesn't understand all the college systems? I mean they can be quite complex and boring to understand.

    Great review! :)

  10. Love how you started out this review. I agree that this series is unstoppable. I think the first book was my favorite in this series, but I liked this one better than number 2.

    I wonder if DJ's experience is realistic for athletes. Because you know that colleges don't really care about your SATs is you can play sports.

  11. I still haven't read this one and I have to say, you don't have me pumped up to read it anytime soon even though it's rotting on my bookshelf. I think a lot of the series is a bit unrealistic, or at least bordering on cheesily serendipitous but the whole college process you mentioned would/will probably also annoy me. I think I'll still listen to this one instead of reading it because like you said, they are impossible to read slowly. I just plowed through them:)

  12. So I need to read this series ;)? I remember your review for book 2, which made me definitely want to read these books, and this makes me want to read them even more! Is there just three in the series? Whenever I stop by my TBR increases! A good rating from you definitely is something to notice.

  13. I truly loved this series and the Schwenks. I read them all back-to-back so I can't remember precisely what happened in each book, except that I couldn't stop crying in the second and third books. Win! Bill!

    Honestly, I don't know how you do ANY readalong! I'm doing the Infinite Jest readalong now and it's Week 3 and I'm still on page.... 20.

    Anyway, I think more people should check out this series, readalong or not. :)

  14. I like this series so much too, but I agree--this book wasn't my favorite among the three, and I think you hit it on the nose when you say because it's the lack of family!

    Still, these are so good--and I'm so glad you finally read these! I have my fingers crossed she picks up DJ's story again a few years down the road. I'm not through with her.


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