The Off Season
Life is looking up for D.J. Schwenk. She’s made it to eleventh grade, she’s reconnecting with her best friend, and she’s got kind of a thing going with Brian Nelson. Best of all, she’s playing for the Red Bend High School football team—as the first girl linebacker in northern Wisconsin.
But then the season goes suddenly, horribly wrong: her brother Win is put in the hospital by a devastating blow during a game. Once again, D.J. is forced to step up and be there for her family. As her life turns completely upside down, she discovers she’s a lot stronger than she – or anyone – ever thought.
A BookSense top summer book for teens.
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A handful of reviews
★ “The Off Season depicts a believably maturing D.J., a young woman whose character shines through even as she struggles to find her voice. Readers will root for her at every tragicomic turn, and will hope to hear from her again in future novels.” School Library Journal (starred review)
"Her story reads like a letter from an old friend." Parade
"Heartwrenching and hilarious." Columbus Dispatch
“More ambitious and wide-ranging than its prequel, The Off Season provides an insightful glimpse into the rewards and challenges of the culture of middle-American farm families. . . . D.J.'s voice is all her own – strong-minded but insecure, unstructured but witty, practical but emotional – and she is easy to cheer for.” Horn Book
“No-nonsense and just enough aware of her own failings, D.J. is a splendid narrator and it's good to have her back.” Sacramento Bee
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• Finalist, 2007 Cybils, the Children's and YA Bloggers' Literature Awards
• “Best Young Adult Books of 2007,” Kirkus, 2007
• Best Books for Young Adults 2008, American Library Association
2007 Spring Review Top 10 Titles (plus 2), New England Children’s Bookselling Advisory Council
• 2007 Summer Books for Children, BookSense
Questions from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Dairy Queen was very well received, and readers fell in love with D.J. Schwenk and her family. Did this make it more challenging to write another story about her?
The challenge, I have to say, came much more from the responsibility of writing a second book at all. Dairy Queen I wrote as an exercise. The sequel, however, came with all sorts of pressures: my editor's and agent's expectations, the fact that I was being paid (what if I screwed up? I'd have to return the money!), that looming deadline . . . all of those made for a painful experience. So the responsibility of treating D.J. correctly was incidental in some ways to all this other trauma.
How did the sequel to Dairy Queen emerge? Did you always intend to write a sequel?
To my mind, there really wasn't much room for a sequel, certainly not for the dramatic character evolution of Dairy Queen. At the end of that book, D.J. was "launched," a full-fledged human with an enormous capacity for mature emotional insight. However, I did have a pang whenever I thought about Curtis. I wanted to make sure that he was going to be okay. I felt bad about leaving Amber in the lurch — there she was with a new girlfriend and that story just ended. And I wanted to know more about D.J.'s older brothers. So even though I considered D.J.'s story complete, I recognized that there were other stories left to tell.
You used your screenwriting experience when writing Dairy Queen. Did you do the same with The Off Season?
It's the only form of storytelling I know! Screenwriting is a highly structured form of storytelling. The dialogue has to be tight, the descriptions have to be evocative and brief — one or two lines to make a character compelling and tangible, and of course writing visually is critical. So, yes, I did use my screenwriting lessons in The Off Season, and I still think of several of the scenes more as film scenes than book scenes.
How do you know so much about spinal cord injury?
Research, research, research. Thank heavens, once again, for the Internet — I found several blogs that helped enormously, and through those Web sites two critical books: Travis Roy's autobiography, and the story of Adam Tagliaferra, a Penn State cornerback with a C4 injury. Then I connected with Magee Rehab in Philadelphia and had the best experience there. When I was writing Dairy Queen, I very much wanted to make sure the football was accurate, and the farming. But spinal cord injury is another level altogether. It mattered intensely that I be correct in every possible way.
Did you always know D.J. and Brian's relationship would end the way it did?
That was probably the second hardest part of The Off Season, after the research.
What did you work on after The Off Season?
A wonderful, delectable fairy tale featuring a princess locked in a tower, an evil queen, a handsome prince . . . the whole works. I came up with the idea one Sunday morning while I was supposed to be writing The Off Season and wrote the first draft in sixteen days — it just poured out of me. (Can anyone say procrastination?) It's too bad, actually, how The Off Season suffers from middle-child syndrome. As I was writing The Off Season, I was also intensely involved in early promotion efforts for Dairy Queen. Then, when I should have been focused on promoting The Off Season, I became enraptured with Princess Ben. Not that I don't love The Off Season as well, but it has never had my undivided attention.
Author Interview, Shelf Elf, March 2008
Questions for readers
• At the end of Dairy Queen, what did you think would happen next? (If you haven’t read Dairy Queen, go get it! Quick!)
• Many characters in The Off Season face tough decisions. How important do you think community expectations are in the characters’ decisions, and in your own life?
• In the second half of The Off Season, D.J. is separated from her parents during an enormously trying time. How would her experience have changed if they were with her? How would you react in her situation?
• D.J. and Brian clearly have a complex relationship. How does D.J.’s opinion of Brian evolve over the course of The Off Season? What would you do in D.J.’s situation? In Brian’s? Do you agree or disagree with D.J.’s ultimate feelings about him?
• Curtis spends much of the book getting in trouble and keeping secrets. What did you think he was doing? Do you think his secrecy is justified? How would you handle such a situation if you were Curtis? If you were one of his classmates?