The word “charming” is too vague, and it makes me think of smarmy real estate descriptions, but…I…can’t…stop…myself. Dairy Queen is just so darn charming that I am forced to momentarily succumb. Catherine Gilbert Murdock has taken a traditional coming-of-age story about a tomboy in a small town and wrung some feisty new life out of it. Her character, DJ Schwenk, is a fifteen year old girl living on a dairy farm and learning about boys, football and family ties.
The first few pages of Dairy Queen are a little disconcerting. DJ speaks in the first person with a simple style and slangy dialogue, and she definitely sounds like a fifteen year old from Wisconsin. Once I settled into her voice, though, I was hooked. DJ is disarmingly honest, naïve, observant and witty - Gilbert Murdock’s voice is spot on. DJ’s mixed feelings toward her family are a realistic combination of humor, angst and love, but they aren’t overdone or corny.
Gilbert Murdock also skillfully addresses some of the issues female athletes face. DJ gets called a “dyke” on the football field, but what upsets her more is that the opposing player pinches her butt as he says it. DJ describes herself as “big” and “strong,” but she has no more than an occasional pang of jealousy for the thin “girly girls.” She may not be free from insecurity, but she is comfortable in her skin. I found DJ’s healthy body image and appetite to be a refreshing departure from teen weight and popularity obsession. More importantly, DJ’s focus on training and competition rings true to anyone who has ever loved to play. When that focus begins to clash with a budding summer romance, DJ is forced to make decisions she has been putting off all summer. By that point I was praying for a sequel as charming as the debut.