Wednesday, February 3, 2010
Front and Center
This weekend while at a chess tournament, in a noisy and crowded room where non-players wait, I read the follow-up novel to Catherine Murdock's YA series that begins with Dairy Queen and is followed by The Off Season. The new one is entitled Front and Center, and it distracted me quite satisfactorily from my surroundings, making me remember what it's like to be a junior in high school.
In this third novel D.J. Schwenk is a little older, a little wiser, and a little more confident about speaking up when necessary, which still leaves her one of the quietest teenage characters in literature. One of the pleasures of the novel is overhearing her thoughts; I'm especially partial to the ones about what it's like to be bigger than all the other teenage girls: "Did you know that zero is actually a size? Who the heck is a size zero? Do they walk around all the time saying 'I fit into nothing,' ha?"
Reading this novel as a parent who had dedicated the entire day to one of my childrens' pursuits, I especially enjoyed getting a teenager's perspective on what moms look like when they wait:
"I finally ended up parked outside the middle school, wondering if I looked like the moms who were sitting there waiting. Like a middle-aged woman who spent her days driving around Red Bend as an unpaid chauffeur. Had those moms gone to college? Had they had a big old shopping bag of college envelopes once? Was this how I'd end up, when all this was said and done, in twenty or thirty years?"
I have put in my share of time sitting in the middle school parking lot, much of it wearing a chauffeur's hat I bought for myself (see photo) and grading papers or reading the books I kept in the car, and I have looked around at the other parents and wondered how they found the time to sit and wait in the middle of the afternoon. But I never really considered that, to some, that waiting time would constitute their view of my entire existence.
The part about D.J.'s college visits strikes a chord with me, too, as the mother of a high school junior whose concerns about picking a college have so far been mostly geographical ("not the college where you work, mom and dad!") On one campus D.J. says "the classes wouldn't be too hard, either. I'm sure you're wondering how I could tell that just from looking at the buildings, but I could."
D.J. successfully negotiates her way through scholarship offers and relationship dilemmas in this one, and the level of detail makes it all feel so real again:
"'You gonna eat that fruit salad?'
She'd heard. She heard about Beaner and she mad sure to be here, just for me. For a moment I couldn't speak or I'd have started crying. 'Um...just the pineapple. You want the rest?'
And that's how our conversation went, because when you're sitting in a high school cafeteria trying not to blubber in front of your best friend, it's best to focus on canned tropical fruits."
This is a satisfying end to D.J.'s story. There could be more novels about her, but you don't need any more to know how all the issues that have concerned her since her introduction (in Dairy Queen) are resolved. As in the previous novels, I think Murdock does a marvellous job of making her readers care about some of the intricacies of playing the sports D.J. loves. I am not a person who has ever played or followed sports, although I can enjoy watching a baseball game on a summer afternoon, or a soccer game in an autumn dusk. When I read about D.J. teaching someone to block in a basketball game, though, I feel like it's a skill that matters.
How would you rate your interest in sports on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being lowest? My interest would be at 1, which just goes to show what a good writer Catherine Murdock really is.