Okay for Now. Do you know how that feels?

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)

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3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. N Messmore
    Jul 18, 2013 @ 21:52:45

    Gosh, sorry it’s taken so long to reply; I fell off the grid for a bit. As far as suggested grade range for books goes, I rely on sources like School Library Journal and other professional journals for their recommended ages. Then I also consider the interest level for the materials based on the community that my library serves. I suggest you talk with children’s librarians in your community’s library for recommendations. As a mom, I use commonsensemedia.org to check books & movies for content. Their reviews include recommended ages as well as rate educational value, positive messages/role models, and questionable content like violence, sex, language, consumerism and drinking/drugs/smoking. I hope this helps.

  2. klclark525
    Feb 17, 2013 @ 15:24:09

    I am new to your blog and am finding it addicting. I want to go back and read all your old blogs. Okay for Now is a book many of my 6th grade students are reading write now (We get to go hear Gary Schmidt speak coming up in April!). I have a question for you. I teach 6th and purchase a lot of the books myself. I’ve been stung a few times (buy 13 Reasons Why- which was just too old for my group). Your age level ranking, from what I’ve read, is more for reading level, correct? Some of what you’ve rated at 9-up are books I do have in my library (that I’ve read). 6th is such a conglomeration; I have to have higher and lower reading levels and younger/older reading interests, all keeping it appropriate for 6th grade (in an elementary building). Do you have any suggestions for how to know if a book will be worth my while to purchase?

  3. Ali B.
    Feb 18, 2012 @ 20:45:56

    I loved Okay For Now. You are so right, this is a book that stays with you. I fell in love with Doug. His voice was so perfect – full of pain, intelligence, humor and fear.

    If you get a chance, stop by my blog and read what I had to say about this marvelous middle grades book.

    http://literarylunchbox.blogspot.com/2012/02/okay-for-now.html

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