Add my voice to the throng. You must go read this now. (Or, as soon as possible.)
D.J. Schwenk, from Red Bend, Wisconsin, is many things: 15 (almost 16), single-handily holding down/running the family dairy farm, from a family who loves and lives for football, someone who flunked English, and someone who’s just trying to figure life out. So, when the coach of the Hawley High team (you have to understand that Red Bend and Hawley just don’t hate, they loathe each other) asks D.J. if she’d train the quarterback, Brian Nelson, she just about flips. But… she says yes. And he comes. And they realize it’s a good thing. Which opens up a huge can of worms (kind of like Pandora), and turns D.J.’s summer into one of the worst (and best) ones she’s ever had.
It’s not a complicated book, but it’s got sass. I loved the tone of the book, and because I loved the way it was written, I loved D.J. There is a intimacy to it: because it’s D.J.’s words, thoughts and feelings, you get the flavor of D.J. through her faults and worries, but also you glimpse her strengths, hopes and accomplishments. I was constantly laughing at her spot-on observations, especially about cows and people, and she had me spellbound with her storytelling. She’s got a normal, yet somehow messed up, family and she’s just trying to make sense of her place in it (what 16-year-old isn’t?) and in high school. Even though it’s got a bit of buildingsroman in it — D.J. trying to figure out how to grow up and make sense of the world and her desires — it never feels maudlin. Perhaps because it’s a bit chatty, for a novel, but I found it forgiveable, because I loved D.J.’s voice and passion so much.
It’s also a love song to football. Everyone in D.J.’s family has a passion for playing and living the game, and it came through loud and clear: football was not just a game, it was a way of life. I was a bit of a fan back before I married a guy who didn’t know a quarterback from a halfback, and I still follow “my” team through the newspapers, though I don’t watch much any more. (They’re not my team, but how about those Jayhawks?!) I felt like this book was accessible and enjoyable to those who know football, but it also is one that anyone who has a passion for anything could also relate to. D.J. has an immense love — passion — for the game, and that was only strengthened by her love for her family — especially her father and older brothers.
Really, my only complaint about the book was the cover. I mean cows with tiaras are okay enough, but someone must not have read the book before doing that. The paperback cover has it better:
And there you have it: a girl, a boy, a summer, a game and a really great book.