Friday, July 6, 2007

The Off-Season by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

Sometimes my husband says to me, "You're a little off today." Meaning I am goofy, unfocused, or high-strung. In some way, a little off.

I expected The Off-Season, sequel to Dairy Queen, to be about the months following DJ's first football season. Instead, it's about a season that's "off," in which things don't go as DJ expects. Brian Nelson's still visiting Schwenk Farm just days after the Red Bend/Hawley scrimmage. DJ's season starts well, but she's benched for fighting in school and injures her shoulder during practice. After overhearing her parents' talking about the farm losing money, DJ knows her only hope for college is a basketball scholarship. She must make a difficult decision: continue to play football, which she loves, or save her arm for basketball and the chance for a scholarship.

But we know this isn't the biggest challenge DJ will face in this "off" season. Nor is it her mother's slipped disk or Curtis' cutting class, driving the truck (at age 14), or sleeping over in a girl's basement. During the college football games one Saturday, Win falls down and doesn't get up. DJ's whole life is upended as she travels first to Seattle to act as surrogate mom while her own mother recuperates from her back injury and then to Minnesota for Win's rehab.

DJ uses the voice she found in her English essay last summer to coach her brother to come back to himself and to deal with the realization that she is an embarrassment to Brian--and there's nothing "off" in Murdock's second YA novel.