Because I was away at school in the spring, I missed the release (and advance reader’s copy) of Gary Schmidt’s Okay for Now. I didn’t think anything of it until it started to get buzz from the blogosphere. Big words started getting thrown around, words like “must read,” “National Book Award” and “Newbery contender.” Everyone, it seemed, was head over heels for this book. I figured it was high time I read it, but I wondered if it had been built up too much. Really, could any book stand up to all this hype? The very fact that I’m writing this blog should answer that question. (Yes.)
When Doug Swieteck’s family moves to stupid Marysville, he’s sure that he’ll hate it. After all, how much can possibly happen in a tiny town in upstate New York? You guessed it: a whole lot. For starters, there’s a book in the library full of pictures of birds that he can’t seem to get out of his mind. And a librarian who is determined to teach Doug to draw those birds. And a girl with attitude who shows him the best way to drink a really cold Coke (big gulps followed by a giant belch). And a science teacher with a tiny rocking horse named Clarence on his desk, a horse that rocks enthusiastically whenever a student gets something right. And a reclusive playwright who shares ice cream when Doug makes the Saturday grocery delivery.
But then, of course, there’s Doug’s family: his mother, with the most beautiful smile in the entire world. His father, with a quick temper and quicker fists. His middle brother, who is possibly a criminal mastermind. And his oldest brother, who is returning from Vietnam with mental and physical injuries that Doug’s not sure will ever heal.
It’s the worldview used in creating the characters that is the deciding factor here. I hope I’m not spoiling anything by telling you that every single person introduced in the plot–good, bad, and ugly–is redeemable. Even Doug’s abusive father, who, like any reader with half a heart, I was predisposed to utterly despise, gets a shot at forgiveness and rebirth. It’s the sort of hopeful, lovable novel that is often lacking in our cynical society of ambiguous endings and anti-fairytales. It’s refreshing and joyful and heartbreaking and unpretentious and thoroughly enjoyable.
I am not lying when I tell you that I laughed and cried while reading this book (on the metro, as it happens, which may have been slightly awkward for the people around me). As I said, the awards blogs are atwitter with predictions for this title (it’s already a National Book Award finalist), so don’t be surprised if you hear more and more about it as the countdown to Newbery begins. It’s an excellent choice for gift giving, too–it’s definitely on the top of my holiday suggestions list for this season!
The title of this blog is a little bossy, so I’ll tone my demands down a bit and just say that if you read this book (and I really, really, really hope you do!), you’ll be extremely grateful that you did.
Miss Megan G.
Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt, Ages 10+, Clarion Books (Houghton Mifflin)