Okay For Now by Gary D. Schmidt

okay-for-now1Cindy: Fans of Newbery Honor title The Wednesday Wars will be delighted with Schmidt’s new companion novel, Okay For Now (Clarion 2011).  “I’m not lyin’.” Doug Swieteck is dismayed to learn that his father lost his job and is relocating the family to the small upstate New York town, “Stupid Marysville.”

I hate this town.

I hate that we had to come here.

Doug is comforted somewhat by Holling’s going away gift of Joe Pepitone’s New York Yankees autographed jacket but even that treasure is not enough. He has a rough start to 8th grade in the tiny school of kids who all grew up together in a town that knows everybody’s business.  Fitting in is never easy, but when his older brother with his “twisted criminal mind” quickly earns a bad reputation for stealing, Doug is found guilty by association by his classmates and the bulk of adults in the school and town. “Terrific.” Add plot threads about another brother’s return from Vietnam with damaged eyes and missing legs, Doug’s abusive father and his crony friends, illiteracy, the Apollo moon flights, participation in a Broadway show and Doug’s grocery bike-delivery job to the eccentric citizens of stupid Marysville and there’s a lot going on in this story that hits on all emotions.

But this is a Gary Schmidt novel, and so, don’t forget to add in some culture, this time in the form of a unifying theme of art and composition through the bird paintings of John James Audubon. Each chapter opens with a reproduction of one of Audubon’s works from a valuable book on display under glass at the local library where Doug takes refuge…not for the books, but for the first painting of the diving Arctic Tern that draws him in. The librarian takes him under his wing, so to speak, and teaches him how to draw (and how to observe) through the months of adjustment. Our sixth graders study famous scientists and Audubon is on the list. The students are intrigued by the massive book we have of his paintings and gently turn the pages to see the art. We keep it out on p1000367-cropped-smdisplay on top of the reference shelves year-round and it will definitely be highlighted when I booktalk Schmidt’s book. I read this book back in January and yet Doug and his story haunts me still. On vacation in Key West a few weeks ago, I stumbled upon an Audubon home. I toured the gardens where he spent six weeks drawing 22 native Florida Keys birds and toured the captain’s house who gave him room and board for his stay. Seeing the hand-colored prints and reading the notes from his time there (“A Prize! A Prize!” when he found a new species for his collection) raised goosebumps and brought this book even further to life for me. (And, I’m lusting after that gorgeous book display stand!)

This is a book that doesn’t get the adults out of the way and yet Doug maintains control over his story. even addressing the reader. There are evil adults here, but most of the characters help Doug cope with his hardships and open his eyes to what a teacher tells him the astronauts might find on the moon…possibility.

Lynn: I too read this book months ago and yet when I reviewed my notes the reading experience came right back.  What a storyteller Schmidt is!  This is a big-hearted emotional roller coaster of a book.  I was laughing and weeping, ready to pin medals on some characters and kick others in the backside.  The story and the characters completely pulled me in and I cared deeply about what happened to them all.  This is a just-one-more-chapter book, nearly impossible to put down.

One of the elements I especially enjoyed is Schmidt’s great skill at showing us the place, the people and the pieces of the puzzle, and then letting us figure it out.  The reader is allowed to discover what is happening and who these people really are without being told.  Schmidt’s world-view is warmly optimistic and he clearly sees the good in people and through his characters we come to that same place.  Schmidt crafts scenes with a deliberate understatement that served to intensify the emotional experience for me.  For those of you who have read the book, there is a scene in the gym with a tattoo that seared itself into my heart!

There are also some big leaps of faith required and a plot element or two too many for this to be a perfect book but Schmidt engaged me so completely that I was willing to follow Doug Swieteck anywhere!

There is so much to talk about with this book and it would make a terrific discussion book for bookclubs and classrooms!   But we’ve gone on too long already so just make sure to get to this amazing book soon!

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About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

3 Comments on "Okay For Now by Gary D. Schmidt"

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  1. labsnbooks@aol.com' Brenda Kahn says:

    Love your review Ladies! I read Okay for Now the last week in January. That week, I marked it and Small Persons wilth Wings as a 2011 favorite. Except for 2 picture books, I have yet to give a novel that designation. Nothing else has wowed me (yet).

    I just got my finished copy and plan on displaying it with our Audubon book as well. The book won’t sit on display long, though. There are a handful of sixth graders who are Wednesday Wars fans that are eagerly awaiting the completion of cataloging.

    brenda

  2. pl04bps@birmingham.k12.mi.us' Pam L. says:

    I so loved this book and The Wednesday Wars. While they’re both middle school books, I think my 9th graders would like it as well.

    Have either of you ever heard Gary speak, perhaps at your school? Wondering if he’d be a good secondary school author for a visit.

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