Okay for Now
By Gary D. Schmidt
Clarion Books, 2011. 360 pgs. Middle Grade/Teen fiction
Doug Sweiteck is a diamond in the rough. His father, who is loud, obnoxious, and even abusive, has quit his job and is moving them to Marysville, a podunk town far from Doug's beloved Yankees. His oldest brother, who is about as kind as their father, is fighting in Vietnam and his other older brother looks like he's well on the way to being a hoodlum, and there's no lost love between Doug and his brothers. Doug is anticipating a pretty miserable eighth grade year in Marysville, but some things turn out to be surprisingly good. Take for instance, Mr. Powell, the librarian who is teaching Doug to draw using volume of Audubon's Birds of America. And Lil Spencer, whose father owns the local, gets him a job as a delivery boy for her father, and she herself turns out to be quite the friend to Doug. And school, which has plenty of downs, turns out to have some ups as well.
This book is a companion novel to The Wednesday Wars; it's a complete stand-alone, and in my opinion, even better than The Wednesday Wars. I liked The Wednesday Wars just fine, but I love this one. It wrapped itself around my heart, and readers who aren't touched by some part of Doug's story likely aren't human.
The first person narration is fabulous--Doug has a distinct voice that is wise and strikes the perfect balance between humorous and serious. The situations Doug faces also range from serious (some are truly heart-wrenching) to hilarious (although the hilarity is often shown in smaller doses). Watching him evolve from a borderline hoodlum himself to a kid who can do anything is a truly beautiful experience, made all the better by fantastic storytelling.
Supporting characters enhance the story. Some, like Lil, Mr. Powell and Doug's science teacher are the sorts you wish you could get to know, while others, like Principle Peattie and Coach Reed, will have readers wishing, along with Doug, that someone would punch them in the face. Their villainy might be a little over the top, but it fits with Doug's voice.
Although this book is historical fiction (and would be a great story to help people understand more about the Vietnam war), even readers who don't like historical fiction will be able to relate to and enjoy it--many of the issues are ones facing kids and teens today.
It has been said there are four doorways to reading--characters, setting, plot, and language--and this book has all four, making it a great choice for just about anyone. Even reluctant readers will enjoy getting to know Doug (who is a reluctant reader himself).
This is a book about art and learning from it, about life and dealing with it, and about family and loving them. It's about getting knocked down and getting back up again, about hurting and healing, and about becoming the master of one's own destiny.
There are some books that just make your soul feel different after you read them, and for me, this is one of those books. I read it on a day when I personally needed to know that things would be okay for now, and I find myself cheered by it and grateful to Gary Schmidt for it. I hope it wins the Newbery next year. 5 stars.