Sixteen-year-old D.J. (short for Darlene Joyce) Schwenk's family knows a lot about two things: football and farming. Dairy farming, to be exact. D.J.'s dad even names his cows after famous NFL players and coaches. D.J.'s two older brothers, football legends in their small Wisconsin town, are now in college on football scholarships, but they no longer talk to D.J.'s family after an argument that led to the silent treatment. Silence is actually a big problem in D.J.'s family: If there's a problem or something, instead of solving it or anything, we just stop talking. Just like cows. D.
J. herself is getting frustrated with the whole farming thing. Her dad's too stubborn to have surgery on his hip, so D.J.'s stuck with the milking and haying. D.J.'s mother and younger brother aren't much help, either; they seem to have secrets of their own, and of course no one's talking to anyone else.
Then, out of the blue, Brian Nelson enters D.J.'s life. The quarterback for a rival high school, Brian is sent to the Schwenk farm by his coach to learn a little discipline and hard work. At first, D.J. can't stand Brian, who seems to spend all his time talking on his cell phone, shirking his duties and blaming other people for his problems. When D.J. uses her own football knowledge to train Brian, though, she discovers another side to him, a side that gets D.J. talking and thinking about her own life like never before.
This funny, heartfelt first novel features a heroine and a setting unlike most other novels for teens. D.J. is honest and smart, a normal-sized girl who can value her strength and her skills without obsessing about her weight, her clothes or her makeup. Humorous details about farm work and small-town life, recounted in D.J.'s own down-to-earth tone, help to paint a realistic picture. The novel doesn't shy away from portraying small-town prejudices and loyalties in equal measure, giving readers a glimpse into a way of life that's virtually invisible in most other young adult fiction. Norah Piehl is a freelance writer and editor in the Boston area.