Monday, May 4, 2009

The Off Season

I liked Catherine Murdock's first novel about D.J. Schwenk, Dairy Queen, enough to want to read the second one, The Off Season. But I resisted for a while. Partly that's because when I like a book, I sometimes don't want to spoil it with a sequel that might not live up to the first one. And partly that's because I have a credit card with reward points at a major chain, so every once in a while we all go and get one "free" book there, and I was waiting to buy The Off Season as my "free" one. Well, it didn't take me long after buying it to use sitting in the car waiting to pick up a kid as my reason to start reading it, and once I started, it was hard to stop.

The Off Season picks up pretty much where Dairy Queen left off, with D.J. playing football for her high school, seeing Brian, and talking to her friend Amber and to her parents and younger brother a bit more than she used to, at least when it's important. I enjoy her typical low-key, matter-of-fact attitude about things. When she's watching one of her brothers play college football on television, she says that "all the camera ever does is follow the ball, which a linebacker doesn't spend too much time with. But Bill had some great tackles that we could see, and if nothing else, he didn't embarrass himself, which some days is the most you can hope for." I'm going to have to add that to my bedtime list of things to be grateful for, along with not having a sore throat, which is what I always start with, if it's true.

The matter-of fact tone produces much of the humor that I enjoy in this book. When some reporters from People Magazine come out to interview D.J. about playing high school football, she and Brian don't realize they're from People, so they do and say things they might not have wanted in a national magazine. D. J. feels embarrassed when the story comes out complete with a photo of them kissing and thinks "It's not such a good idea to go around kissing rival linebackers, at least not in high school football. I wouldn't know about the pros."

There are some serious issues in the novel, too. The farm is losing money, and D.J. thinks that "not using chemicals" hasn't done them any good because "it's not like people come by our place because Schwenk milk tastes so great, or that we have any way of even telling them how great it tastes. People I know wouldn't pay more for that, not one penny, not for just milk. Maybe city folks would, folks who get fired up about buying wild turkeys that aren't really wild. But it still didn't make sense to me, a bunch of city people who couldn't identify the front end of a cow paying more for milk that came from sunshine and grass instead of chemicals. That's not how people think." As one of those city folks who has paid more for a heritage turkey and for organic milk, not to mention eggs and cheese (to mention only a few of the things we brought home from the local farmer's market this weekend), I had to laugh.

But one of the central actions of the novel occurs when one of the college-football-playing brothers ends up with a spinal cord injury. And D.J. comes to some realizations about herself and her family: "All this time I'd thought Brian was brave because he could talk about really painful subjects. Like just now when he said how bad he felt--that's something Schwenks suck at, discussing feelings. I'd thought how great he was too. But a guy who's really great would have friends who are great as well. Not friends who make fun of me and badmouth me all the time. And if friends did do that, a guy who was really brave would be able to make them stop." And if that's not enough for a girl who's still only 16, she also sums up much of the action of the novel when she tells her brother, who is mired in self-pity about his injury, that "you can't control what people say about you."

D.J. is a believable 16-year-old, but she's strong...and she's big. I really like that about this character. After one of my first knee surgeries, when I was still on crutches, I went out to dinner with my husband and another friend, an operatic soprano, who is also six feet tall and who was also using crutches for a bad sprained ankle. My husband got a comment about going out "with a female football team." And we were in our twenties. I wouldn't have handled such a comment as well as I did (I didn't punch the guy...or fall on him) if I had still been in my teens. D.J. has the kind of strength that not everyone works hard enough to achieve.

Luckily for D.J.'s fans, there will be a third and final Dairy Queen book. It's due for release October 19, 2009, with the title Front and Center.

And there will be a farmer's market opening near your house soon, I'll bet. Have you ever been to one? If you haven't already joined a CSA, it's probably not too late.


Natasha @ Maw Books said...

We have a great farmers market that once it starts we go to at least 2-3x a month. It's expensive though but we have a lot of fun. Sounds like a great book.

Chris said...

Sounds interesting.

We have a farmer's market 5 mins away. I'm always too lazy to drag myself out of bed on Saturday morning to go. I should do it tomorrow. They have good organic chicken there.

Beth F said...

I've belonged to a CSA for about 9 years and I also go to the local farmers market every week without fail.

Claudia said...

Well, I'm my own CSA. I almost joined one once...and then we moved to the country. So I raise my own vegetables instead. I do visit the town's farmer's market ocassionally - when I have my act together and cash. I rarely have cash on me these days.

Joe said...

That's a really dense passage there about city slickers who can't tell a cow from a bull. (Frankly, most of them don't know somatotropin from oxygen dihydride, if we're talking about chemicals too.)

I don't know the scale of the Schwenk family farm, but I hear the transition to organic methods can be a real killer for the large-scale "family" operations. "Organic" certification is what draws the city slickers in - but it requires a 3 or 5 year period of detoxification, during which your yields are going down even though your sales may not be going up because you're hands are tied about what you can claim.

Small farms like we deal with in CSA and the Farmer's Market are a lot more agile - less overhead, and more time for us to talk to farmers whose names we know about what they do and don't do. And even they run into the problem that sometimes, people won't pay enough more to make the "green" method pay off.

Dairy farmers have it rough in particular - was it last year or 2 years ago that Strickland ordered law enforcement to stop (!) prosecuting people for selling raw milk? Something about the role of dairy in our food culture seems to be a hot button in the way other products aren't.

Harriet said...

I've never joined a CSA, but I'm a religious visitor of Farmer's Markets. I also forage for fruits and vegetables and grow my own.

trish said...

I'd heard of CSA before but am hesitant to do it since my husband is so picky about his vegetables (and frankly, there's a couple common vegetables I don't like, tomatoes being one of them), but I think I'll go to the Farmers Market this Saturday and see what I can pick up. :-)

Alison said...

FYI to Trish: our particular CSA actually sends out a list when you sign up, where you can check off any particular items you would not want to receive (radishes - yuck).

Jeanne said...

Thanks for all the replies! As Alison says, our CSA also has a place to specify your favorites and things you won't eat. The few times we've gotten something we didn't want that week, if we asked, they'd trade it for something we did want!