Skip to main content

Okay for Now

2012 Newbery buzz began about Gary D. Schmidt's Okay for Now in pretty much the same breath the 2011 winners were announced. Schmidt has had two books win Newbery Honors in the past. I haven't read either of those, this is my first experience with Schmidt's writing, which is unequivocally deserving of the praise and buzz this book has received.
Synopsis (from publisher's website):
As a fourteen-year-old who just moved to a new town, with no friends and a louse for an older brother, Doug Swieteck has all the stats stacked against him. As Doug struggles to be more than the "skinny thug" that his teachers and the police think him to be, he finds an unlikely ally in Lil Spicer—a fiery young lady who smelled like daisies would smell if they were growing in a big field under a clearing sky after a rain. In Lil, Doug finds the strength to endure an abusive father, the suspicions of a whole town, and the return of his oldest brother, forever scarred, from Vietnam. Together, they find a safe haven in the local library, inspiration in learning about the plates of John James Audubon’s birds, and a hilarious adventure on a Broadway stage.

Okay for Now is set from the summer of 1968 to the summer of 1969. America is embroiled in Vietnam and launching the Apollo missions. So much tragedy and great potential at one time. How do you convey the aspect of such a time? By telling the story of one boy, a boy whose life is tragic and yet full of wonderful potential. And if you are a good writer you convey through this the universal human experience that any reader in any time will understand, because living is tragic yet contains wonderful potential in every moment. Schmidt is an author who not only can do this, but makes it appear easy at the same time.

Doug is a character with a lot going against him. An abusive father, a bullying older brother, being the new kid town, overcoming people's misconceptions of him, overcoming his misconceptions of himself. There is a lot going on with Doug and it is voiced perfectly. His voice is incredibly genuine. Sometimes bewildered, cocky, confused, belligerent, scared, hopeful. And all that can be on one page. I grow weary of reading book after book written in first person. Many of them sound the same. Not this one. Doug becomes a real person through his voice and, I have to say, I haven't enjoyed having a character's voice in my head this much since I read The Thief. (Not that Doug and Gen are in anyway comparable, because they aren't. That is just how real Doug came to be in my mind.) I like the way Doug jumps topics too. He will be telling one thing, which will make him think of another, and off he goes. He shies away from revealing too much or getting into emotions. Very typical eighth grade boy. Doug made me laugh and he made me cry. He made me want to shake him and hug him.

Through Doug's story you become acquainted with the people whose lives touch his. His family, teachers, librarians, customers from his job, and his friends all have real presence in the story. These are not a cast of quirky characters offering comic relief or a quaint way to drop in life lessons. They are average people living average lives in an average late 60's small town. Living their ordinary lives they touch Doug in extraordinary ways, as he does them. And I came to love every single one of them.

Each chapter of the book is introduced by a print from John Audubon's Birds of America and the chapter title is the name of the bird. Doug's story is tied to that book and those birds which are unleashing his artistic talents. They form an intricate part of the plot and the descriptions of the characters. They bind the whole story together. I am in awe of the artistry with which Schmidt pulled that all off. He doesn't try to be subtle about it and that is part of its brilliance.

Often in MG literature an element of the melodramatic is added to spice the story up, because we all know middle schoolers love their melodrama. Schmidt didn't go there. He has some dramatic moments but they never become melodramatic. There are scenes that should have been corny, but aren't. It's all in the way Schmidt presents it so beautifully.

And then there is the ending which is perfect and fits in with the whole so well. In a way it hints at tragedy. In a way it is full of glorious and wonderful potential. And hope. The eternal hopefulness of youth, which is powerful even when it is shadowed by fear.

I loved every moment spent with Doug and the citizens of Marysville, NY. I would recommend this book to any reader.


Popular posts from this blog

Shorter Musings MG Fantasy

Here are some shorter musings on recent MG fantasy reads. Anya and the Dragon   by Sofiya Pasternack This book is fun. It is a book full of adventure, an obvious bad guy, some more complicated morally gray area characters, and a strong, brave heroine. It is also a book about friendships, community, and fighting for what is right. All things that usually work for me really well. While I enjoyed this, I did feel it was a little overlong and there were certain plot points at the end I didn't love. However, there were things I thought were done really well, such as Anya's Jewish faith and the idea that power needs to be challenged. In the end it was a middle of the road read for me, but it is one I will certainly be recommending to dragon and fantasy adventure lovers I know! R is for Rebel   by J. Anderson Coats This is tough because I usually really like Coats's books. I had such a hard time with this one though on so many levels. It's difficult to get into because t

TTT: Most Recent Additions to My TBR List

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly themed blog hop created by  The Broke and the Bookish  and now hosted at  That Artsy Reader Girl . This Week's Topic: Most Recent Additions to My TBR List From Most Recent to Least: What books have recently caught your eye?

Future Favorite Friday: June 2018

I take the 2nd Friday of every month to highlight some upcoming releases I am looking forward to that I hope are Future Favorites. Feel free to do your own post, just please link back to my blog and tell me about your post in the comments. Two Naomis  was one of my favorite reads of 2016 so I was understandably excited it's getting a sequel.  In this sequel to  Two Naomis , now that Naomi Marie’s mom and Naomi E.’s dad are married, the girls have learned to do a lot of things together, like All-Family Sunday dinners, sixth-grade homework, navigating the subway system by themselves, and visiting their favorite bakeries. Until sixth grade in a new school presents a whole new set of surprises and challenges. Trusting her gut has worked for Naomi E. all her life, and she figures that it will be an asset to her role as a Peer Mediator—until she realizes how much of the job requires the Art of Compromise, which she’s only just starting to get used to at home. Naomi Marie i

The Reece Malcolm List

The Reece Malcolm List by Amy Spalding surprised me. Enough people I trust enjoyed it so I knew I would like it, but wasn't expecting to like it as much as I do. It is a really great book that is fun and has real heart and soul too. Synopsis: Things I know about Reece Malcolm: 1. She graduated from New York University. 2. She lives in or near Los Angeles. 3. Since her first novel was released, she’s been on the New York Times bestseller list every week. 4. She likes strong coffee and bourbon. 5. She’s my mother. Devan knows very little about Reece Malcolm, until the day her father dies and she’s shipped off to live with the mother she’s never met. All she has is a list of notebook entries that doesn’t add up to much. L.A. offers a whole new world to Devan—a performing arts school allows her to pursue her passion for show choir and musicals, a new circle of friends helps to draw her out of her shell, and an intriguing boy opens up possibilities for her first love. But the

Ash & Bramble

I have established that I love fairy tales and fairy tale retellings. You know what else I love? Books written by Sarah Prineas. Both her MG series are great favorites of mine. When she happened to mention on Twitter long ago that she was working on a YA, I followed closely eager to read whatever the result was. Ash & Bramble  is a fabulous work of genius. (I consider Sarah a friend as well as an author I love, and she sent me the ARC I'm reviewing here.) Pin lives in the Godmother's fortress sewing clothes with the other seamstresses tasked with producing the beautiful one of a kind ballgowns the Godmother uses for her mysterious purposes. Pin has no memories of her life prior to the day she begins her work as a slave to the Godmother's will. Everything that came before is a blank nothing. While she has no memories, she is still a person with a will and a fierce defiance to live her own life. She gets a chance to plan an escape when she is used as a foot model for