Review: Dairy Queen by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

Monday, August 25, 2014 11:47 AM
Title: Dairy Queen
Author: Catherine Gilbert Murdock
Narrator: Natalie Moore
Published: May 23, 2006  (first published April 30, 2006)
Publisher: Listening Library
Series: Dairy Queen #1
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
Length: 6 hours and 7 minutes
Source: Borrowed
Rating: 4.5 stars
Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble
“Everyone I looked at, their whole lives, did exactly what they were supposed to do without even questioning it, without even wondering if they could do something different.”
― Catherine Gilbert Murdock, Dairy Queen

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, maybe he’s right.

When you don’t talk, there’s a lot of stuff that ends up not getting said.
Stuff like why her 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. Why her college-football-star brothers won’t even call home. Why her dad would go ballistic if she tried out for the high school football team herself. And why Brian is so, so out of her league.

When you don’t talk, there’s a lot of stuff that ends up not getting said.
Welcome to the summer that fifteen-year-old D. J. Schwenk of Red Bend, Wisconsin, learns to talk, and ends up having an awful lot of stuff to say. (Goodreads)
My Thoughts
When I picked up Dairy Queen, I wasn’t expecting it to be a new favorite. Since this book has a lot to do with football and dairy farming, subjects I have very little interest in and know absolutely nothing about, I went into Dairy Queen skeptical but also hopeful that it would take me by surprise given all of the positive feedback it received. And lo and behold, Dairy Queen ended up being a delightful read, filled with wholesome, heart-warming scenes while at the same time fraught with so much tension and emotional feels.

Dairy Queen paints a heartfelt, moving portrait of a farming family that has hit tough times, a family barely keeping it together. D.J. is faced with many hardships throughout this book, from family strife to backbreaking work to bullying. Yet throughout it all, she still has her unconditional love for her family, and that keeps her working on the farm when she’d much rather do something else. D.J. is an admirable protagonist, one that inspires pride and hope in her aspirations. Seeing how hard she works, how much time she devotes to her family’s farm, makes us cheer her on all the more when she hopes to play football. And she may be somewhat naïve and close-minded at times when faced with something she's not used to, but I was able to make an allowance for her given her sheltered life. Her sweetness and integrity makes up for any of her shortcomings, along with her social awkwardness. I found her to be a wonderful character, someone I could imagine being friends with or getting along with.

Then there’s her family. You see, none of the Schwenks are talkers. Instead, they have a habit of keeping everything in until the silence just about kills them. D.J.’s brother Curtis barely speaks, D.J. doesn’t want to tell her father that she’s trying out for the football team, and everyone ignores their problems instead of addressing them. Even when they don’t hear from D.J.’s two older brothers for months because of a fight that’s blown way out of proportion, her family still doesn’t talk about the conflict. As D.J. spends more and more time talking with Brian, she realizes that these problems won’t just go away, and she slowly starts talking more and opening up to her family. Dairy Queen may be about D.J. and her attempts to be more than just a “cow” dumbly going through the motions, but it’s also about family and confiding in one another. As the book progresses, D.J. learns that sometimes in order to heal, you need to open old wounds no matter how painful it may be.

As for the romance in Dairy Queen, there’s not much of one which was fine by me. There’s definitely some chemistry between Brian and D.J., but the main focus is on her family issues and on D.J. finding out what she wants to do in life. I’m sure the romantic interest will be built on further in the later books, but I actually liked that it took a backseat to other plot developments in Dairy Queen. I’m not sure how the romance will play out, given the rivalry between their hometown football teams, but I think Brian is good for D.J. He forces her outside of her comfort zone, and he raises questions about what she’s doing with her life, and whether she’d rather be doing something else instead. He is not only a potential boyfriend, but a good friend as well, something D.J. needs more than anything else.

When it comes to the narration for Dairy Queen, Natalie Moore was the perfect choice for D.J. I don’t think I could have picked a better voice actor for this audiobook if I tried. I could hear every emotion D.J. was feeling through the narrator’s voice. Her uncertainty, her pent-up frustration and anger were all strongly felt through the narrator’s tone. She was a believable narrator, and I would definitely recommend this audiobook version.

If you have yet to read Dairy Queen, I’d strongly recommend doing so. If you can overlook the horrible cover, you’ll find a read well worth your time. It is a touching read that teaches us to follow our dreams, no matter how unattainable they may seem. It shows us that we can be more than just another “cow,” and that our choices are our own and no one else’s.


  1. Yay! So glad you loved this one (I expected you to, though, since I went in with similar misgivings and ended up loving it myself).
    I agree with everything you said. DJ is just such a good person that it's hard not to like her or want her to succeed. And I did appreciate the romance being on the backburner for this. Romance does become more prominent in the other books, but not necessarily in the way you'd expect.
    None of the covers for this book (or series) are attractive, but oh well. The story inside makes it more than worth the effort.
    Looking forward to reading your thoughts on the next two books!

  2. I have heard so many wonderful things about this book, Courtney. DJ sounds like a lovely character and I love books with focuses on the family themes. I think I would really appreciate this book. I need to get myself a copy.
    Lovely review! :)

  3. This is probably a book I would overlook (that cover is hard to dismiss!) but your review does make it sound interesting! And I have heard of the author before because she wrote a fantasy book that I've been meaning to read. If I like that one, I'll probably pick up more of her books, and this one sounds like a good start! Great review!

  4. Awww, everyone who has read this book seems to absolutely adore it so I'm happy you've joined the club as loving it as well! Hopefully I can join the club too soon. I think I'm already in like with DJ and I just KNOW that that feeling will only grow once I actually read the book. Or listen to it! The audiobook sounds great so I may go that route instead. Love this review, Courtney!

  5. This is my favorite contemporary YA novel. Er, well…the entire series is my favorite contemporary YA novel. I can't pick one, haha! But yeah. I relate to D.J. on a level I've never related to a character before (which is strange, because we're not really alike). But anyway. YAY YOU LIKED IT!!!!


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