Julie A. Swanson

Purer and Purer Streams…

Category: basketball

Does FRONT AND CENTER live up to its DAIRY QUEEN predecessors?

5 stars1In three earlier posts (November 1st and 9th, and December 9th, 2012) I wrote about some great middle grade and YA books that outdoorsy/sporty girls might really love, all of which I discovered have sequels I’d not known about but would’ve been eagerly awaiting and looking out for if I had. When I found out these books had sequels, I immediately bought them, and I’ve read them all now so I’ll give a review of each starting here and continuing in the next couple posts. It’s hard for books to live up to such high expectations…

First,  Front and Centerof Catherine Gilbert Murdock’s Dairy Queen series (which would appeal to girls who enjoy sports, football and basketball in particular. Books in this series include, in order, Dairy QueenThe Offseason, and now, Front and Center):


I just love the character of D.J.Schwenk. She may be my favorite main character ever. She’s charmingly funny and awkward–humble, honest, insecure, a character just waking up to and beginning to own her talents, to feel comfortable in her skin as a girl, a female. She’s not the world’s greatest student, but she’s far from dumb and works hard at school. Due to her athletic talents, leadership qualities, and physical size (height and strength), she finds herself in the limelight without even wanting to be there. She hates all the attention. She’s clumsy around adults, clumsy with boys, clumsy  expressing herself verbally, confused and clumsy when it comes to her own emotions. She’s grown up on a Wisconsin dairy farm with football-star older brothers and a dad who’s treated her much the same as them, so she’s a little rough around the edges, thinks she has to be emotionally tough, that she’s not like other girls. She’s amazed that boys could find her attractive, doubts she could be seen as pretty or feminine. But she enjoys the attention of the boys, and she likes them (in fact she’s confused about which of two boys she likes more), and there is romance in the book, but the kind of romance I can stomach in YA–no sex. She’s amazed that Division I college coaches are recruiting her–in basketball. In the previous books in the series, football is the sport most focused on, but in this book, it’s basketball. The author did a great job of making the sports action sound realistic. Before reading the afterward at the end of the book, I thought she must’ve played basketball herself at a fairly high level–it rang that true–but by what she’s written in the afterward, it appears she just did her research well.

Anyway, I love this book as much as the two in the series that came before it, possibly even more because it’s about basketball, which was my sport. I give it a 4.9 out of 5 stars. Funny thing about this book and the others in the series: I didn’t think the plot of any of them was their strength. Or maybe it’s just that when I saw their cover art and read the jacket flap on each story, I wasn’t sure I was going to be interested in them even though they were being touted as sports stories. Football? Eh. Romance in YA? Ugh, always awkward IMHO. And I’ve already mentioned in a previous post how the cover art for these books seems to be going after mass appeal rather than reflecting the true spirit of the stories. Simply put, I loved these books because of the main character, D.J. Schwenk. Catherine Gilbert Murdock could write just about anything with D.J. as the protagonist, and I bet I’d love it no matter what the story was about, or how strongly-plotted. I care about D.J. I want to hear what she has to say, how she reacts to things. She makes me smile and laugh and feel like, yes, I know, me, too. I wouldn’t have felt so alone in the world as a kid if I’d had these books to read. Heck, I feel less alone as a grown adult.

So please write more, CGM! The story where D.J. is a freshman in college sounds great; I’ve written a story about a girl going on to play college basketball as well (but which doesn’t fall into a neat category, age-wise, for marketing/shelving purpose), so please pave the way and show that there is interest in such a transitional type YA story! It appears I’m not the only one who finds D.J. Schwenk so endearing; if you read the author comments at the back of the book, she tells of the great volume of fan mail she received from readers asking for more of D.J., whereas she’s not had the same reaction to the main characters of her other books. That shows what a beloved character D.J. is.



Let the Dreamer Dream

Below is a poem I wrote a long time ago when I was in high school and aiming to be the very best female basketball player in the world (and I knew that if anybody knew that, they’d think I was crazy or at least cocky). Although I kept quiet about it and never let on just how high my sights were set, I was getting definite vibes from my mom and others that this obsession of mine was not good, not valuable, a waste of my time/energy when I could and should be spending it doing other things because a.) I didn’t have it in me to reach my pie-in-the-sky goal, and b.) even if I did, it wasn’t worth what I was putting into it.

When I got my own place in college, I wrote this poem in the closest thing to calligraphy I could do, framed it, and hung it in my bedroom. Friends who’ve seen it over the years have asked for copies of it. Several have had it done up in calligraphy themselves and now have it hanging in their offices or homes. So even though it’s not the greatest poetry, I know it resonates with like-minded people and it’s always meant a lot to me (it’s the only thing I’ve ever gone through the trouble of having copyrighted on my own).

This poem is for the Don Quixote in us all, the Leonardo Da Vinci, the Orville and Wilbur Wright, the Neil Armstrong, the Alexander Graham Bell, the Thomas Edison, the Martin Luther King, the Billie Jean King… and for all those kids out there, big and small, dreaming ‘impossible’ dreams. Whether or not they succeed in the world’s eyes.

Please… let the dreamer dream.
His plight is not as it may seem.
Laugh at his dreams, call them insane
      —wasted time, efforts in vane—
But he believes, unlike you,
And by believing, he will do.
To say, “One day I will fly,”
To go after a goal so high,
                              A man is exceptional in mind and heart,
                              Set from all other men apart,
                              Naïve and sadly mistaken,
                              Ignorant of the task undertaken.
Who can say which a man is?
The right to judge is solely his.
Better a fool left running about
Than a genius discouraged by doubt.
To save time and tears is kind intent
But the result will not be as you meant;
No, he’ll hold even tighter to it out of spite.
Criticism that’s undeserved and wrong
Sings an even sadder song.
For dreams are the things
                              that pull him from bed
And fuel his efforts
                              the day ahead.
Crushed and empty, his dreams taken,
Why should he ever what to awaken?
Please… let the dreamer dream.
His plight is not as it may seem.
Better to let him try, if only to fall,
Than not allow him to dream at all.
For success lies not in the prize
So much as in the exercise.
More important than any honor earned
Is the experience gained and the lesson learned.
While broken dreams die hard and sad,
Regret hurts twice as long and twice as bad.
One is the pain of growing,
The other, the pain of never knowing,
                           of never having tried,
                          of never being satisfied.
                                 ~Julie Polakowski