When you don’t talk, there’s a lot of stuff that ends up not getting said.
Harsh words indeed, from Brian Nelson of all people. But D. J. can’t help admitting to herself that maybe he’s right. Because it’s obvious that no one it talking about why D.J.’s best friend Amber isn’t so friendly anymore. Or why her little brother Curtis never opens his mouth. Why her mom has two jobs and a big secret, or why her college-football- star brothers won’t even call home nowadays. And certainly no one is talking about how D.J.’s dad would go ballistic if she tried out for the football team.
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A handful of reviews
"A breath of fresh air." The New York Times
★ "A painfully funny novel." Kirkus (starred review)
"An engaging coming-of-age story that incorporates family secrets, a major crush, and a hearty dose of football, told by a self-deprecating Wisconsin tomboy." People
★ "Murdock takes no cheap shots – every character she creates is empathetic." Publisher's Weekly (starred review)
"Thanks to D.J.'s folksy candor, Dairy Queen brims with charm." Entertainiment Weekly
Borders Original Voices Award, Winner, 2006
Booksense Picks for Children, Summer 2006 #1 Pick
Midwest Booksellers’ Choice Award for Children’s Literature, Winner, 2007
Great Lakes Book Award for Children’s Books, Great Lakes Booksellers Association, Winner, 2007
Best Books 2006, School Library Journal
VOYA Review Editor’s Choice, 2006
Top-Shelf Fiction for Middle School Readers, VOYA 2006
Best Books for Young Adults, American Library Association 2007
Ultimate Teen Reading List, TeenReads.com
Questions from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
How did you come up with the idea for this book?
It always sounds goofy, but I really did have a dream about a girl playing college football against a boy she loves passionately. That kernel stayed with me, just kept growing in me for days, as I thought about it and worked it – dream or no, the story idea was just a lump, and I had to do a lot of shaping. The heart of the story remains this dream-moment, when D.J. looks across the football scrimmage at Brian. All my work went into building up to that eye contact, which ultimately was only a sentence.
The reader learns a lot about life on a dairy farm – did you have to do much research?
I grew up down the street from the sweetest, cleanest dairy farm ever. As I was writing Dairy Queen, I kept a long list of questions, and then I visited Art Webster – he's the dairy farmer, retired now – and quizzed him for hours. He couldn't have been more helpful. He's one of the people I dedicated the book to.
Curtis is a very quiet but important part of the book — how did you come up with his character?
Ah, Curtis. Every time I think about him, I melt a little. I created Curtis to help D.J. out around the farm. But D.J. needed to become increasingly isolated as the summer progressed, for her thinking to evolve, and her relationship with Brian. So as I was writing, Curtis played this walk-on role, really, of showing up to help when the workload called for it and then disappearing. He never even spoke. Gradually I realized I had to address this somehow, and so I made his silence part of the story.
Why don't you give names to D.J.'s parents?
It's great – so many people don't even realize this, and then later they'll ask, "What was D.J.'s mother's name again?" For the record, both parents do have names in my head. But I was quite tickled by the notion that D.J. wouldn't ever provide them. I mean, why would she? She doesn't see them having identities separate from her own.
Is D.J. the kind of person you would have been friends with when you were fifteen?
I wish! I would have been extremely impressed with her. So many YA heroines are clever, gawky introverts – probably because so many YA readers, myself included, fit that mold. I relished creating a heroine who diverged from that.
You've done a lot of screenwriting. How was writing a novel different? The same?
I love writing screenplays (though I’m not very good at it). I love the craft of it, nailing the scene description and the dialogue, streamlining the page. Screenwriting teaches you to go into every sentence and make it as tight and clear as possible — especially dialogue. In the end, though, novel or screenplay, the writing experience remains the same. You're telling a story. Make it good.
What's the biggest surprise to come from Dairy Queen?
I gave a copy of Dairy Queen to my dentist, and on my next visit he told me he collected animal skulls when he was a kid, and agreed that it was very hard to locate intact mandibles. I’d invented this detail just to illustrate Curtis’s passion, and it turned out to be based in real life. Wow.
Questions for readers
• The Schwenk family isn’t very good at talking about problems. How has this affected each family member? How would your family handle the problems the Schwenks are facing?
• D.J. does a lot of growing up over the course of the story. How do the other characters in the book grow up? What role does she have in this development?
• D.J. often identifies herself through her physical appearance. Do you think she has a healthy or unhealthy body image?
• Amber has a minor but critical role in Dairy Queen. How would the story differ without her presence?
• If D.J. attended your school, how would you view her?