Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt; published by Clarion Books, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, New York, 2011; 360 pages.
Doug Swieteck’s family has just moved to Marysville, New York because his dad has found a job to replace the one he lost. With his older brother serving in Viet Nam, Doug’s mom is the only buffer he has between his abusive father and another brother who picks on him. So what kind of life will eighth grader Doug have in this new community? Chance encounters bring him a new best friend who also helps him get a Saturday job; a librarian who mentors his artistic talents through a collection of Audubon images; a couple of inspirational teachers who encourage his curiosity and discover that he can’t read; a community leader who shares his love of baseball and subtly becomes a father figure for him; and an eccentric grocery store customer who unknowingly helps Doug meet his idol, Joe Pepitone. Do you know how that feels? It feels like everything’s okay for now.
The abusive father, the bully brother, and the silently suffering mom were awfully hard to read about. At times I had to put the book down because I didn’t want to know what would set Dad off this time. However, the juxtaposition of caring adults surrounding him in the community made it easy to pick up the book again. I quickly realized that this was not so much a book about a boy surviving abuse, this was a book about hope and small kindnesses that make a difference. This is one of those very rare books that will stay with me for a long, long time.
Doug’s narrative voice is compelling. Schmidt has captured an eighth grader’s perspective and conversational tone remarkably well. The author also created a character so fully fleshed that I expect him to come in to my library. Including Audubon prints with their descriptions and plate numbers as chapter titles is ingenious. Each bird invokes a different reaction from Doug; the birds are then presented in an order that reflects or foreshadows events in the story. All of the subplots are not resolved in the end; but isn’t that how life is? Isn’t it enough to know that Doug is obviously okay for now?
4P 5Q Grade Level: 5-8
Cover Art: An unraveled baseball lies at the feet of a middle schooler with a bag over his head. The bag has a big smiley face drawn on it and the boy is giving the thumbs up. The traditional yellow of a smiley face logo is used in the title balloon over his head. Everything’s on sky blue background. Yes, this is a tough book to read at first because of the abuse alluded to, but the happy face and sunny-day-blue background are a big hint that everything will work out in the end. It is an attention getter, and feels appropriate to the middle-school audience.
From Reading List: Keepin’ It Real (Realistic Fiction)