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BOOK REVIEWS, Contemporary Realistic Fiction, Middle Grade Readers, Young Adult Readers

OKAY FOR NOW by Gary D. Schmidt

Okay for Now continues with the character of Doug Swietek from WEDNESDAY WARS [Lovelace nominee]. Doug’s eldest brother has joined the army and been deployed to Vietnam during the War; Doug’s second eldest brother steals Doug’s authentic New York Yankees hat and torments him endlessly.  Then Doug’s father mouths off to his boss and is fired, causing the family to move to a new (small) town.

In 8thgrade, friendless and unable to read, Doug is painfully conscious of NOT belonging in his new home.  When his brother is accused of burglarizing first the Deli (where Doug has gotten a job as a delivery boy) and later the Hardware Store, Doug finds himself dealing with repercussions at school and in the community at large.

It is an often heartbreaking story about the frustration of reputation and expectation—how expectations based on reputation of oneself and that of family members can become self-fulfilling prophecies—and how individuals can change that.

Unexpectedly, Doug discovers the public library’s copy of Audubon’s Encyclopedia of Birds. He is awed by the images of the birds Audubon has drawn. With the help of an elderly librarian who is knowledgeable about art he, himself, begins to discover his own talents as an artist in the ways he sees and draws.  Doug tries doggedly to pursue the direction he WANTS to go, despite the fact that when “things are going good,“ something bad always happens to wreck it.

In many cases he succeeds in getting others to see beyond the judgment of reputation and gossip into the goodness of his heart and his motivations.  The gentle romance of his first girlfriend is beautifully and sweetly rendered in Doug’s plain, revealing thoughts and actions.

The plot and narrative are expertly woven together in the genuine voice of Doug.  The story really feels seamless to me until the last few chapters.  For me, the ending is dissatisfying—not because some plot points are left for the reader to decide but because the events concerning Lil are not explained enough for the reader to feel that she CAN make any kind of determination about what happens after the story ends.  The reader gets too bogged down in trying to figure out WHAT is going on to pay attention to what the author may be trying to say through Doug in the final pages.

Regardless of the disappointing ending, the book is definitely a worthwhile read–especially if you liked The Wednesday Wars by this same remarkable author.


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