Front and Center - Catherine Gilbert Murdock

I feel like I have to preface this review by saying I liked this book because I fear my review is going to come across more negative than my star rating suggests. I did enjoy reading it, and I got through it pretty quickly (partly, because it's very short) but it was a disappointment when compared to the first two.

The strongest aspect of this book for me was D.J.'s relationships with Beaner and Brian Nelson, her on-again/off-again ex-boyfriend. I felt like D.J.'s struggles and growth in the romantic sphere were very realistic, although I thought Beaner let D.J. off a little too easily at the end. Even if the relationship didn't mean much, it still hurts to be dumped and he did seem to really like her. The chemistry between D.J. and Brian was still going strong, and I liked how in the end she was still true to herself. The conclusion to the romantic relationship could have been a disaster in the hands of another author, but Murdock does a great job giving readers a happy ending that is still realistic, and didn't ruin her characters.

Unlike the first two books in the series, I wasn't immediately sucked into this one. The start was very slow, and the entire book seemed to have a lot more filler, which is odd since it's already very short. Even more problematic for me was D.J.'s character regression. All of the lessons she'd learned from books one and two completely flew out the window. Her self-esteem reached new lows, which was particularly unbelievable because, unlike in the first book, both this one and the second were filled with people praising her for her accomplishments and recognizing how amazing she was. D.J.'s actions in this book would have been much more believable if the events from the last two hadn't happened.

Speaking of praise for D.J., I also felt like I was being beat over the head with how wonderful, important, and special she was in this one. Every character seemed to fall all over themselves for her. Even characters with whom she had previous conflict were nice to her. None of the characters held her accountable for her actions, and overall there weren't any longterm consequences for her mistakes. The only conflict in this novel comes from D.J. herself and her unbelievably low self-esteem.

Lastly, I just wasn't interested in the college sports recruitment process or basketball. It's funny because I much prefer basketball to football, yet I was actually interested in the football storyline in the first book and bored by the basketball storyline in this one. It's clear that Murdock has done a lot of research about the college sports recruitment process, but there wasn't enough of a plot outside of that to keep me engrossed.

Overall, I liked the book but I didn't "really like" it or love it the way I did the first two. Still, it's part of a great series overall and I would hesitate to recommend it to anyone.