Sunday, February 12, 2012

Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt

Doug Swieteck (last seen in The Wednesday Wars) and his family have moved to stupid Marysville in upstate New York in the summer or 1968.  Doug struggles to overcome the label of a "thug", with a no-good father and a brother that's getting accused of robberies.  Doug's not like that, but what does it matter if no one gives him a chance?  Luckily, a few people do give him a chance, like Lil Spicer who's in his class at school, and one of the librarians who's teaching Doug to draw. 

This was great.  Super great.  I totally loved it.  And I totally loved the audio version I listened to.  It was read by Lincoln Hoppe and he was excellent.  He didn't actually sound like a 13 year-old, obviously, but his tone and style of speech was just perfect.  I could picture Doug so well when I heard Lincoln Hoppe's voice.  There were lots of parts were I was grinning like an idiot by myself in the car, and there were times when I had to sit in my car to hear just a little bit more to make sure everything was going to OK.

If you're familiar with The Wednesday Wars, you'll remember Doug as being the class bully and often being pretty mean to Holling Hoodhood.  It was great to get to see what Doug was really about.  It's totally different then you'd think from what we learn from Holling.

Okay for Now is an episodic story, kind of like The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate.  The story starts during the summer of 1968 and it goes through that whole school year and in to the summer of 1969.  We get vignettes of things that happen in Doug's life.  There are several main storylines running through the whole book the most important being Doug discovering he's a talented artist.  He finds John James Audubon's Birds of America at the public library, and one of the librarians begins teaching him to draw.  Doug learns that pages of the book are sold when the town needs money, and he becomes determined to find all the missing pages and return them to the library. 


There were a lot of great characters in this book.  There was Mrs. Windermere, a playwright, whose groceries Doug delivers.  There's Doug's science teacher who's excited about a possible moon landing, and who believed Doug was a good kid when no one else did.  There was Lil Spicer, who Doug did not get off to a very good start with, but who becomes his close friend and maybe something more.

There were some heavy issues that were brought up in Okay for Now that I think were handled very well considering the age group this book is aimed at.  Doug's father is abusive, both physically and emotionally.  He also seems to squander a lot of the family's money.  Doug leaves many things unsaid at first, and we have to do a lot of piecing together to figure out what's going on.  Doug struggles a lot with trying not to be like his father, or his older brother Lucas, but sometimes it just comes out.

There's also some discussion of the war in Vietnam, and what is does to people when they come back.  Doug's gym teacher is recently back from Vietnam and they do a lot of clashing before Doug sees the pictures from the war his teacher has been drawing.

There were some very powerful moments.  Doug avoids his brother who beats him up and steals his stuff.  For probably half the book, he is only referred to as "my brother."  I didn't even realize Doug never said his name until Lucas comes home, without legs and blind, and his brother starts taking care of him does he get called "Christopher," and he's Christopher for the rest of the book. 

I didn't quite buy the ending.  Doug's father has an incredibly dramatic, very suddenly turnaround that seemed totally out of character.  While I understand the need to wrap everything up and have an uplifting ending, there was nothing before the signaled that Doug's father was capable of feeling remorse over the distress he was causing his family.

Still loved it though.  I would highly recommend it, both the book and the audio.

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