D.J. Schwenk is having a hard year. Her father’s injury means that he can no longer take care of all the work on their dairy farm. The massive fight between her father and her two collegiate brothers pretty much guarantees that they will not be coming around to help. Which means that D.J. is the one to whom all of the chores and endless work must fall. During the summer it’s not too horrible … but last year the extra work meant that she had a hard time completing all of her schoolwork. She knows she’s not smart, but failing English was a major blow, perhaps one that she is unwilling to fully acknowledge.
Then, as summer winds to a close, events start to change. D.J.’s family has always been friendly with the rival football coach, despite the fact that the rivalry between the schools – and the part that the older Schwenk brothers played in that rivalry – is intense. So it’s with mixed feelings that they accept the help of the rival quarterback, sent by the coach to both learn a better work ethic and to lend a hand on the overworked Schwenk farm. D.J. in particular is very mixed in her feelings towards Brian, especially when she realizes that she’s expected to train him. He’s everything she is not – popular, rich, smart – and yet he seems attracted to her. And of course, there is that extra complication of wanting to join the boy’s football team…
D.J. is a complex and three-dimensional character. She’s comfortable with who she is, but at the same time wishes she were something more, something bigger. Her realization that she is a “cow”, just doing what is expected of her without ever really thinking about why or what her other options are, will resonate with almost all teen readers. I particularly liked that D.J. was not setting out to be a maverick. She’s not “quirky” or “eccentric”, she doesn’t do incredibly strange things just for kicks or to be the center of attention. If anything, she is mortified when her decision to shake up her own sense of self by joining the football team attracts national attention.
The Schwenk family is not a communicative unit. Family scenes are notable for their silence, for what is not said, and this, too, contributes to a picture of D.J. as a real person. At times she feels stifled by the lack of discussion about important issues – such as the family fight – while at other times she takes comfort in not being forced to constantly air all of her dirty laundry in front of her parents. Brian’s willingness to talk about anything and everything is both refreshing and threatening.
Real girls who are interested in both boys and sports, who worry about their families at the same time they worry about their boyfriends, and who are forced to balance time with friends with time spent on responsibilities vital to the family can, at first glance, be hard to find on the YA shelves. D.J. Schwenk is certainly among the first rank of go-to books for introspective girls who like a little humor with their character development.
Notes on the cover(s): When it was first released, the cow-wearing-a-tiara cover was the only option. I’m not really sure what they were thinking. If there were anyone LESS likely to wear a tiara, it’s D.J., and while the dairy farm is such a vibrant part of D.J.’s life that it’s almost a separate character, the cow wearing a tiara is just … strange and misleading. The new cover, of D.J. and Brian lying head to head is more generically appealing in a bland sort of way. But it’s misleading in its own way, making the story seem more of a romance than a coming of age story. D.J. and Brian are both very busy people, and they have a complicated relationship. I don’t think either of them spends much time just lying in the grass with the other person.