Football, Cowpies and (Duh) Romance: ‘Dairy Queen’ by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

I’m not going to pretend I know a lot about football. In fact, the only things I know about football come from:

1. Friday Night Lights, which I mainly just watch to dream about Eric and Tami Taylor’s perfect marriage.

2. Attending every single one of my high school’s football games as part of the marching band, where I managed to learn absolutely nothing about football.

3. My husband’s fanatical devotion to LSU football, which I mostly just use as an excuse to eat pizza on game days.

So I guess you could say I’m not exactly a football expert. You got me. But I loved Dairy Queen by Catherine Gilbert Murdock in a big way, mostly because I kind of think this book might’ve been set in my hometown. I grew up in a town that basically cared about two things: football and farming (seriously, my school had Drive Your Tractor to School Day). And unlike high school me, who couldn’t have cared less about either (way too busy wearing sweet Hot Topic t-shirts and reading pretentious books…listen, I never said I was cool, okay?), Dairy Queen’s heroine D.J. is immersed in both. With two older brothers who were football stars, she knows everything there is to know about Red Bend football. And, ever since her dad injured his hip, she’s essentially been running her family’s farm. D.J. has to milk the cows, bale the hay, and do everything else it takes to maintain a family farm. She does it all without complaining, even when she ends up flunking English because she doesn’t have time to do her homework. Clearly, D.J. is a much bigger badass than most of us. If someone made me bale hay and milk cows, I’d probably be like, “Ugh, but I have all these YA novels to read, I couldn’t possibly!”

The one thing that really pisses her off, though, is Brian Nelson. Brian’s the quarterback for Red Bend’s rival high school, Hawley, and he’s rich and snobby. Also, his game needs serious help. Since D.J.’s got some football skills of her own, she gets stuck training him. As if D.J. didn’t have enough to do, now she’s running drills with Brian and, oh yeah, developing a big crush on him (insert that audience swoon that happened on Full House whenever D.J. and Steve kissed).

So, yeah, there’s some romance here. Am I capable of telling you guys about a book that doesn’t feature romance? Probably not. But here’s the thing: the romance is not even the point of Dairy Queen. The book’s more about D.J. figuring out who she is and what she cares about. Between her family’s communication issues, her problems with her best friend Amber and the impossible-seeming project she takes on halfway through the book, D.J. has more to handle than the average teenage girl. But she handles her unique situations with strength and humor, which is why I fell in love with Dairy Queen (and I predict you will, too).


-I mentioned my love of Friday Night Lights earlier. It’s a show that’s sort of about football, but not really about football at all. That’s what Dairy Queen’s like. Yeah, a lot of the action does take place on the football field, but trust me, you don’t have to know a single thing about football to fall for this story.

-Oprah Winfrey herself is a character. Okay, so she doesn’t literally show up in Red Bend, but she sort of becomes D.J.’s spiritual guide in a way that’s really funny and sweet. I only wish I had an Oprah Winfrey in my head who could help me out when times got tough (despite my last name, we’re not related).

-Probably the best thing about Dairy Queen is D.J.’s funny, unique voice. She narrates the book, which is good, because with her communication issues that’s the only way we’d ever get inside her head. She’s smart and weird and strong in a way I haven’t seen yet in a YA heroine, and I really liked her.

-Behold the first line of Dairy Queen: “This whole enormous deal wouldn’t have happened, none of it, if Dad hadn’t messed up his hip moving the manure spreader.” That just might be the best first line ever written. Get off your high horse, Charles Dickens. Everybody thinks “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” is such a great first line, but does it even mention manure spreaders once?

-After I finished Dairy Queen, I found out that it’s a trilogy, which is the best news ever. The end of the book leaves a lot of things open, so I’m super-excited to read the other two books and find out what’s next. If you’re a fan of The Princess Diaries or My Life Next Door, give Dairy Queen a try!

What about you guys? Have you read Dairy Queen? Let me know! And, as always, I love to hear your suggestions for books to feature in Young Adult Education. Leave a comment, email me at or find me on Twitter @KerryAnn.

Filed Under