Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Off Season by: Catherine Gilbert Murdock

    After finishing Dairy Queen, I immediately went out and got the two remaining books of the series, The Off Season and Front and Center, well because I knew I would drive myself crazy if I finished the second book and didn't have the third one within arms reach. This series my friends has been such a treat, I've loved every moment of it.  I'm so happy I ran into the post at Leila's blog and I can't wait to get my hands on some of the other recommendations listed there as well.
    The Off Season starts right back up where the Dairy Queen left off. D.J. may look like your average teenager, but "average" doesn't come in the package of a dairy farmer, the starter for her high school football team, and girlfriend to thee Brian Nelson---you know, the quarterback for Hawley, only the biggest archrival in all of history to Red Bend high school.
    But all in all, life is good. Win and Bill, the two older Schwenk boys are doing wonderful being college star football players, Amber and D.J. are back to being friends again and this whole learning how to talk business, thanks to Brian, is coming along just great. When you're raised in a family where you don't talk about anything, ever, learning how to, can be a bit scary. Which is why D.J. thinks Brian is such an awesome guy, among many other things too, but the fact that he has no reservations about talking and saying what he feels--- that right there, to D.J. takes courage, that right there takes strength.

    But things begin to crumble around D.J. when her mom throws her back out while in the middle of a yelling tirade (of all things) at Curtis. Curtis the too shy to even breathe younger brother. However D.J.'s little brother and his startling, out of character behavior is the least of her worries at the moment, her dad's ideas to make extra money are becoming more ridiculous and eccentric by the minute, the barn refuses to stay in one piece, (regardless of how much duct tape and nails the family plasters on it) and the numb horror at watching one of D.J.'s older brothers get injured in a game on national TV, is just about all the family can take. As D.J. travels to help take care of her injured brother, she finds strength she never knew she had, not only for her family and friends but also for herself.

     I cannot tell you enough how much I love the original voice in this series. Ms. Murdock has done a fantastic job at capturing the awesomely lovable character, D.J. She's funny and strong and you can't help but root for her from the beginning. D.J. faces so many challenges, and while she has her shortcomings she never wallows in the self-pity. Her reference to her mothers work outs by walking the farm land as "Her puffy-breath walking thing." always had me smiling.

     I loved the journey with D.J., the discovery of self worth and strength that she finds. The halting and timid words in the Schwenk household that is paired so tightly with the emphatic actions of love and care they bestow on each other. Learning to talk was one of my favorite growing points with D.J. but more importantly and lovable was watching the discovery and growth D.J. made with finding that at times talk is cheap next to action. That while her family's high point isn't talking, they've got the action part down pretty well, and that at times it's that particular part of this whole mess that takes the more strength and courage to do.

    I felt. . . I felt like that time Mom explained where babies come from. For years I knew where babies come from because of course I live on a farm, and every couple weeks the vet comes and puts on a long rubber glove that goes all the way to his armpit, and sticks his arm in a cow's rear, a cow who's ready to be bred, and puts a baby seed inside her--that's what Dad called it when I asked, baby seed. Because of course bringing a bul in whenever you want to get a cow pregnant is really expensive and time-consuming, not to mention getting the both of them, you know, in the mood. So the vet almost always does it instead, which I guess isn't so romantic for the cow, but I wan't giving that too much thought when I was nine. And so of course it made perfect sense to me that whenever Mom wanted a baby that the vet would come and put a baby seed inside her as well. Only when I explained this at dinner one night Dad started laughing so hard he had to leave the table, and Mom almost had a hernia trying not to laugh as well, and Bill, who I think was born knowing where babies really come from, made all sorts of fun of me even though Win smacked him, and for years after that whenever the vet came by, Dad would shout for Mom that Doc Hansen was here, their own little joke at my expense. Anyway, after that dinner back when I was nine Mom explained to me where babies really come from, human babies, and that process was so much more disturbing than what the vet does, plus combined with all my humiliation at making such a fool of myself in fron of everyone, that for years after I couldn't even think about it without feeling sick.

   That's the same way I felt now, which makes a little sense when you think about it because both times I was being let in on something that was ten times worse that what I'd thought. No wonder the farm was getting smaller all the time and we were selling heifers we could be keeping to milk, and not buying any new machinery, and never going to Win and Bill's games, and repairing the milk house with blowtorches and duct tape. It's not that the farm wasn't making money---it was losing it. And if Mom didn't work full time--up to now I'd always thought it was sort of a side job for her, something she did for fun even though she has a ton of things to do at home---well, we'd be more than broke. We'd be gone, and all our beautiful cropland would be turned into houses just like had almost happened already, and all our wonderful cows would go who knows where and probably end up as fast food hamburger.    All my life Dad had said Win would inherit the farm one day. That's what their huge fight had been about last Christmas, when Win had made a crack about how Dad couldn't break even. Did Win know about the farm losing money? Did Bill? Because Bill had backed Win up in the middle of that fight, which is why neither of them talked to us for months. While little old responsible D.J. stuck around---which I had to do anyway seeing as I didn't have a big athletic scholarship to escape with -- and kept on working, wondering why Dad never fixed anything or spent any money, and why Mom's Caravan was ten years old and Dad's pickup way older. It was just like the babies thing, my two older brothers in on a family secret while the dumb little sister was kept in the dark.

    I'd never though, not once, that maybe Dad's not spending money wasn't voluntary. That it was the only choice he had. And I have to tell you, as tough as farming is, the idea of farming when you're losing money year after year. . . that's not life even, that's like death. That's eternal damnation.



Tricia said...

I adore this series. Someday I will have to go back and read them all again!

Andi said...

I haven't decided yet if this series is for me, but I'm glad you've enjoyed it so! I love getting so swept up in a series that I have to have the next book on hand for immediate consumption!

KIKA said...

Tricia: oh yes this series has been such a treat!

Andi: Oh yes! how I love having the next book on hand :) If you do happen to give them a try I'd love to know how you liked them

Anne Bennett said...

I loved this book. Something in it touched a raw nerve in me and I think i wept through half of it. the injustice of it...are you reading the sequel yet?

Thanks for dropping my the hop and I have now made myself your latest follower.


KIKA said...

Oh yes Anne, these books are the stuff of awesomeness :) yes I just finished, I just have to get the review up now :D glad you loved these ones as much as I did, I will now have to stalk your blog to see what other books you like :D


Love this review. I've never known what the original book was. I thought it was just quick fluff. Sounds like there is more to it than that, though humor seems to pull D.J. through. I'll definitely read this series. What a great review! I love including the excerpt.

Heather Buried in Books

Tammy said...

I have Dairy Queen sitting in my TBR pile or should I say leaning tower? LOL. Loved your review-can't wait to read it myself!
BTW-I'm a new follower!

Deepali said...

Wow, read both your posts on the series, very very interested in finding the books now.

The excerpt looks great, hoping to read more soon :)
I love your blog! I am now a follower as well. Thanks for coming by mine and I appreciate the comments on my new header.
e-Volving Books

melissa @ 1lbr said...

Definitely one of my all-time favorite heroines. Loved this series.

Susan said...

I just finished DAIRY QUEEN and can't wait to read the rest of the series. It's so fresh and compelling!

KIKA said...

Buried in Books: hi heather! thanks for stopping in :) and oh yes, these books carry sturdier stuff than just fluff, I'd love to hear how you liked them! I'll be trolling your blog :) thanks for stopping in

Tammy: LOL yes "leaning tower" sounds quite accurate :) can't wait to hear what you thought of them

Deepali: anytime :) glad you stopped by!

Melissa: yes, D.J. is the stuff of awesomeness! I'm so glad you love Son of the Shadows when I brought the book to the swap I was afraid no one would know the treasure those books are :)

Susan: Oh yes! its a lovely trilogy :) which is hard to find. fresh and compelling is exactly how I'd describe these books. Is your review up? I'm headed over to your blog right now :)

TheBookGirl said...

Hi Kika

What a great review! I had heard of The Dairy Queen, but sort of dismissed it (not sure why). I'm so glad I read your thoughts, because this series sounds like something I would really like.

Thanks for hopping by my blog and becoming a follower :)

I love your blog and will definitely be back!