There are young adult books that are meant to be love stories. Books that, as you are reading them, you cringe just a little as a woman in her mid-thirties reading about two teenagers getting hot and heavy with each other. I’m sure that tweens and teens read this as a love story. I would even say that it would be read as an inspirational story for young women to pursue their dreams despite the boundaries that society places on certain activities. This is a perfect book for the young woman looking for a great, short, fun read with some kissing and some broken glass ceilings.
In this story we find our main character in a small town that worships sports (see: Friday Night Lights) but isn’t quite as good as the neighboring towns and schools (see: Pawnee vs. Eagleton). Her older brothers have moved on to college and pro ball, her younger brother is in Little League baseball, and with her mother a busy principal/teacher at the local elementary school and her father with an injured hip, D.J. basically runs her family’s dairy farm all by herself. This increased responsibility causes her to leave her spot on the basketball team and fail sophomore English, and is now in a place where she isn’t sure what she is doing with her life.
Enter whiny QB from rival town, sent to the farm to help with the load and to learn some discipline by the family friend who used to coach with D.J. ‘s dad and now coaches for rival rich town. He quits a bunch of times, comes back, eventually she agrees to train him for his QB role on the farm like she did with her older brothers. She discovers that she actually wants to play football too, tries out for her high school’s team, brings up her English grade, plays against whiny love interest, they fight, reconcile, the end.
Seems simple enough right? Reading this book with the life experience of a teenager would be an uplifting experience. I would argue that, more so than normal, reading this book from the point of view of a thirty-something is a vastly different experience.
This quote really did me in. I almost stopped reading at this point, because it made me say WELP out loud:
“…maybe everyone in the whole world was just like a cow, and we all go along doing what we’re supposed to without complaining or even really noticing until we die. Stocking groceries and selling cars and teaching school and cashing checks and raising kids, all these jobs that people just one day start doing without even really thinking about it, walking right into their milking stall the way heifers do after they’ve had their first calf and start getting milked for the first time. Until we die. And maybe that’s all there is to life.”
Look. If that one paragraph isn’t where we all are right now. Today. In this time. I don’t know what is. My milking stall has iron bars and about 5 locks on it and there are many days where I wonder how I got here but realize there is no way out, but this isn’t about me, it’s about this book. Does this paragraph echo for you the same as it echoed for me? It made me think about how cartoon movie companies put little jokes into their movies that parents totally get but kids aren’t old enough or developed enough to catch. Kind of like I know you have to sit through this fucking movie a million times, here’s something just for you to make you chuckle because you and I know that’s a sex joke but Junior there just likes the bright shiny colors.
Catherine Murdock saw me there. Saw us there. And this paragraph would pass a teenager by but it grabbed me by the horns.
This book is so small it risks being underestimated. This book says to us “there is so much in life you have to do, make sure that you stand up for a few things that you WANT to do.” It also makes the point that just because you are good at something, doesn’t mean you have to do it and you especially don’t have to love it. And visa versa, sometimes there are things you don’t want to do that you HAVE to in order to do the things you WANT to do.
This book is a small, brilliant gem. It teaches balance. It teaches self-advocacy. It teaches compromise and growth. And Murdock does all of this while keeping the plot entirely realistic. I believe this happens every day in America, it’s just that some kids never have that inspiration (or opportunity) to escape their inevitable milking stall. Dairy Queen says we should have a choice, we should know that choice exists, and we should have the support necessary to make it for ourselves.