This was the last book in the Dairy Queen trilogy, but it took me forever to get around to reading it. Perhaps that's because I didn't love the second book as much as I did the first. It's been too long and I'm not sure why now. I need to re-read and good luck checking these books out. I am sure I grabbed this one off the shelf a minute after they put it up, because every time I checked online it was in someone else's hot little hands.
When I read Dairy Queen I surprised myself by loving it (I read it, I think, because it was a Cybils nominee?). The first book of this trilogy got me started on sports stories. Well, it and Chris Crutcher, who has become hit or miss for me depending on how often he uses rape as a defining characteristic to build his female characters (although I will always love Whale Talk). That is not a problem in this book!
I don't follow sports! I don't dislike them, but I have no interest in playing or watching or painting myself bright colors to scream about passes and scoring. I feel like barfing just imagining playing with flying balls in front of a large crowd that's also screaming at me. However! Put it in book form and add in some angst and some interpersonal drama and I am there. It makes sports accessible to me in a way that school spirit never managed, and it helps I love D.J. a ridiculous amount. In this book she is struggling with being more confident and growing into a true adult with her own voice. Quiet, recalcitrant, D.J., who pwns boys and plays football and does so much for her family and cares about her friends even though they are goofs or lesbians or not so great at sports.
This series also has lots of amazing female relationships. I need to buy myself tons of copies, because I know I will want to re-read them just for the female friendships alone. D.J. and Amber, D.J. and Ashley, D.J. and any female character! Oh, gosh, I loved D.J.'s entire subplot with Ashley — a female friendship where the emotions are geared toward each other, and it has nothing to do with romance or boys or other girls! Just each other. I could recommend this book on the basis of that alone.
It does something interesting with the average YA romance, too, although, once again, love triangle! Could someone please recommend to me some YA romance that does not include triangles or rectangles (unless they are poly, but I won't hold my breath)?
Front and Center handles the triangle with less drama and OMG YOU MUST CHOOSE IT IS SO IMPORTANT WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR than others, because obviously a romance isn't going to end with "and maybe it won't work out!" but to me that's part of the problem. I read a piece about the media coverage of dissolution of the Gore's marriage by Liss and something she wrote resonated with me in the context of the choices D.J. makes about her romantic future, about the lies she tells herself and the resolutions she finally comes to:
No one knows everything about any relationship, even the people in them. Which is what makes loving another person terrifying, and what makes it exhilarating.
The very thing that makes love precious also makes it a breathing thing, with ebbs and crescendos and, sometimes, an end — which may mean that love taking a different shape, like friendship.
And perhaps if we had a cultural narrative about marriage — or any kind of partnership — that also honored the relationships which end in letting go in life, the love stories that are journeys with destinations other than death, perhaps we would be less inclined to view two people taking steps in different directions, after some time together, as failures, and instead view them as people who know how to do love right.
I think Front and Center (and all three books) do a great job of exampling this, because so often I myself struggle with this idea of "who you are with now is forever" so in my head it becomes this great big project that I could fuck up. A lot of that is familial, rather than a happiness issue on my part. My mother has conniptions about my current relationship ending. She can end up in tears just imagining it! The concept of One True Love can go too far, especially in the case YA romance and aggrieved mothers. It can lead to this idea of One Person Only Forever and Always for whatever reason: because looking is scary, because a relationship is safe, because society keeps suggesting matching for life is The Most Important Choice You'll Make. It's why when I was younger I tended not to multi-ship characters — I was reacting to this push for a permanent match, which I think is gendered. I don't get the same vibe that the choice is a dire for male characters when faced with the same choices as female characters.
This trilogy manages to get across how much of a crapshoot love and life is without bashing you in the face with the message. It shows that something that seems perfect might not be and you can change your mind, that the safe and easy choices can hurt everyone. D.J. makes lots of choices about her future throughout the book, choices that are important and make her stronger, more confident, and I believe, more awesome (if that is possible). She can't do these things and not wear them all over her, but one of the beautiful parts of this series is D.J. learning to see herself as everyone else does without getting weighed down by the expectations.
I loved this book. <3