Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt is a book that took me by surprise. I remembered reading some positive reviews of it, so when I saw it at the library’s used bookstore, I bought it. I have to say that it doesn’t have the most appealing of covers, but knowing that others whom I respect and usually agree with liked it, I was willing to give it a try. It turns out that it was just the thing for me to read during this period of extreme exhaustion and lethargy that I’ve been experiencing. I love books that are full of hope, that have hope as a theme. Okay for Now is that and much, much more.
Okay for Now is the story of Doug Swieteck. It’s 1967 or so, and Doug, along with his older brother and parents, is moving to “stupid” Marysville, New York, where Doug’s blowhard of a father has gotten a job after losing his. Doug’s dad is an abusive man, a man whose anger gets the best of him almost every time. When Doug and his family arrive in Marysville, Doug is on the cusp–will he walk in the footsteps of his father, a path that his older brothers are gravitating towards? Well, he might, except for a bunch of things–an entire confluence of complex things–that are orchestrated to change the direction of his life. These things include, but are not limited to, the art of James Audubon, baseball, a Saturday grocery delivery job, a Broadway play, bad reputations, the Vietnam War, orchids, first love, and the moon landing. Intrigued yet?
This story really defies an easy summary, so instead I’ll just write about what I love so much about it. I love how beautifully Schmidt uses Audubon’s birds to communicate themes. While it’s not exactly inconspicuous, it is brilliant. I love it. I love how Schmidt leaves not a one–not one single one–of his characters without hope. He could easily have done than, especially considering how some of them begin, but he doesn’t. While we might consider this a little too neatly tied-up package, juvenile literature (and perhaps even young adult, although the lines blur here, I think) needs to be hopeful. Shoot, I’m almost forty years old, and I need what I read to be hopeful. I love how he includes so many historical events and people–we go from the Vietnam War (which is very up-close and personal because of Doug’s brother’s involvement) and war protestors to Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poetry to Jane Eyre in just a scant few pages. I love how Schmidt shows the power in positive teen/adult relationships. Doug finds mentors and friends all over town, and they literally change his life. As a former public school teacher, this book really made me go back and consider the behavior of some of my students in a different light. What’s really going on behind the scenes with that person? The thing I love most of all, though, is Doug’s voice. Schmidt gets it just right. It is like Doug is telling the story. Here’s a snippet:
Do you know how often it snows in stupid Marysville during a winter? Once a week. Maybe twice. And do you know on what day of the week it always snows? Saturday. Every Saturday for most of January and on into February. Every Saturday.
You remember what I do on Saturday mornings?
And do you think deliveries stop just because it’s snowing, and blowing, and blizzarding, and the snow isn’t turning to slush like it would be on Long Island and it’s getting deeper and deeper, and the cold is so bad that Joe Pepitone’s jacket doesn’t help much at all and my fingers are starting to stick to the handle of the wagon so I have to pull Joe Pepitone’s sleeves down over my hands but I don’t have anything for my ears, which were about to snap off until Mr. Loeffler gave me this gray wool cap that Lil says looks great on me but I think makes me look like a chump but I wear it anyway because I really don’t want my ears to snap off and besides did I tell you that Lil says it looks great on me? (229-230)
Sherry says in this post that “Schmidt was cheated out of a Newbery award” when Dead End in Norvelt won this year’s Newbery, and I couldn’t agree more. I thought Norvelt was weird and I hated the ending, but I love Okay for Now through and through. I think it will make my favorites list this year. Highly, Highly (Highly) Recommended. (Clarion, 2011)