53 of 55 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A HOME RUN BOOK FOR YOUNG AND OLD ALIKE!!
As a school librarian, I'm a tough critic when it comes to Middle Grade and Young Adult books. A good chunk of what I read is perfectly readable, certainly entertaining, and strongly written, if not stellar.
OKAY FOR NOW is stellar.
I mean it. If I could give Gary Schmidt's companion to THE WEDNESDAY WARS six stars instead of five, I would...
Published on July 3, 2011 by Librarian
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyed Everything But The End
Doug Swieteck doesn't care if you like him. He's just a loser kid from stupid Marysville in upstate New York. Doug first appeared as a secondary character in Wednesday Wars, for which author Gary Schmidt won a Newbery Honor. Now Doug is back as the main character in Okay for Now, the book I'm reviewing here. Both books feature disappointing fathers, antagonistic teachers...
Published 19 months ago by NebraskaIcebergs
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53 of 55 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A HOME RUN BOOK FOR YOUNG AND OLD ALIKE!!,
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Program (What's this?)As a school librarian, I'm a tough critic when it comes to Middle Grade and Young Adult books. A good chunk of what I read is perfectly readable, certainly entertaining, and strongly written, if not stellar.
OKAY FOR NOW is stellar.
I mean it. If I could give Gary Schmidt's companion to THE WEDNESDAY WARS six stars instead of five, I would.
Seriously, this is the kind of book that makes you stop and pause, just so you can read a passage to your spouse, your kid, your friend. The voice is so wonderfully pitch-perfect, the plot points so perfectly interlocked, the characters so uniquely drawn, you can't help yourself. You get downright evangelistic about the book. If you're like me, you give your copy to your kid and then buy a copy for your dad and one for your Grandma, too. (I'm not even kidding about this.)
Doug, 8th grade protagonist, is the younger brother, the bullied son, the undercover artist, the misunderstood student you can't help but root for. As he negotiates a place in his family and in his new hometown during the Vietnam War era, he becomes someone real, someone you know, someone whose story you have to keep on your top shelf, the one reserved for your most favorite novels.
Because OKAY FOR NOW is the realization of something great. It's exactly what a book is supposed to be.
71 of 77 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Extremely Well Written,
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Program (What's this?)Okay For Now is Doug Swieteck's story. Doug is an 8th grader who, due to his father losing his job, moves to a small town with his family. Amidst multiple family issues -- a passive mother, abusive father, bitter and beaten-down Vietnam-vet brother, and a second brother who is merely scared -- Doug manages to discover much about not only his neighbors, but himself as well.
In the safety of the town's open-one-day-a-week library, Doug discovers a new talent, love, friendship, and selflessness. Outside of the library, his life is not an easy one. His familiy has multiple issues. He is unfairly judged by both students and teachers at school. And townsfolk are wary.
Doug's optimism, given all of his issues, is catching and he manages to bounce back from the many not-so-great things that happen throughout the book. He manages to keep a good attitude (most of the time, anyway) because he has a mission... To replace the missing plates in the town library's original John James Audubon book. Not only fascinated with learning to draw the birds, Doug learns that various plates have been sold to raise money for the town and he firmly believes all things belong in their proper place. The plates belong in the book as originally intended, not hanging on somebody's wall.
Each chapter of the novel opens with the images of one of Audubon's bird paintings, and the bird is effortlessly tied into the content of the chapter. Dough's insights regarding each plate are not only useful as he learns to draw the birds, they help him to better understand the dynamics of the world around him -- particular those of his immediate family. A passive yet loving mother. An abusive and angry father. A brother who is frightened at how he may turn out. And an older brother who is bitter and scarred due to his experience in Vietnam.
Okay for Now is an excellent read. It will draw you in and not let you go until you have finished the last page. Doug's character is extremely well-written, and I immediately felt like I knew him. I was happy when he was happy, and I even felt his pain when the not-so-great things happened.
56 of 61 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Do you know how that feels?,
"You're not always going to get everything you want, you know. That's not what life is like." It's not like the librarian Mrs. Merriam needs to tell Doug that. If any kid is aware that life is not a bed of roses, it's Doug. Stuck in a family with a dad that prefers talking with his fists to his mouth, a sweet but put upon mom, a brother in Vietnam, and another one at home making his little brother's life a misery, it's not like Doug's ever had all that much that's good in his life. When he and his family move to Marysville, New York (herein usually referred to as "stupid Marysville") things start to change a little. Doug notices the amazing paintings of birds in an Audubon book on display in the public library. The boy is captivated by the birds, but soon it becomes clear that to raise money, the town has been selling off different pages in the book to collectors. Between wanting to preserve the book, learning to draw, solving some problems at school, the return of his brother from Vietnam, and maybe even falling in love, Doug's life in "stupid" Marysville takes a turn. Whether it's a turn for the better or a turn for the worse is up to him.
It's such a relief sometimes to read a great writer for kids. Not a merely good writer, but a great writer. Mr. Schmidt is one of the few. You haven't gotten even two pages into the story of this book before Doug tells you about his brother hitting him. He writes that he, "Pummeled me in places where the bruises wouldn't show. A strategy that my . . . is none of your business." Beautiful. Right there we know that not only is our narrator telling us his story, but he's also hiding secrets along the way. In fact, throughout the book Doug will repeat ideas or thoughts or phrases that he's been ruminating over, seemingly unaware that he's working those same thoughts into the narrative. Doug isn't so much an unreliable narrator to us as he is an unreliable narrator to himself.
Schmidt's dialogue is also always on point and interesting, but of particular interest are his descriptions. When Doug and his mother enter a bus to greet someone there, Doug says of his mother that "Her blue coat was spread out, and it covered them both like wide wings..." Doug spends a great deal of time comparing the people he knows to the birds in Audubon's paintings. This is one of those instances where he's doing it entirely unconsciously. He wants his mother to be a bird. Just not necessarily to fly away.
There's a bit of wordplay at work regarding Doug's brothers that I think is clever but actually had me quite confused for a portion of the book. We learn pretty early on that Doug has a brother in Vietnam who was a jerk before he left and we know he has a different older brother at home. There is one moment when we learn that the Vietnam brother's name is Lucas, but for the most part it's easy to get confused and assume that the brother at home is Lucas instead. After all, whenever Doug feels himself acting like a jerk he says he's acting just like Lucas. When we finally meet Lucas, Doug's constant references to "my brother" (which is to say, Christopher) disappear. The two brothers now have names and are becoming increasingly better people. Christopher, for the record, is the only person in the family strong enough to carry Lucas. One can't help drawing some comparisons to St. Christopher and the burden that he carried as well. Knowing Mr. Schmidt, I suspect this is no coincidence.
One of the most remarkable things about Gary Schmidt's writing for kids is that he allows his villains some complexity. It takes a certain kind of author to create an unlikable individual (not hard), display them in an honest way through a child's perceptions (harder), and then somehow manage to, if not redeem that person, at least show that there's another side to them in a way that a kid can believe (unbelievably difficult). Stock two-dimensional have their place in the world but a novel like Okay for Now works because each bad person has something about them that humanizes them (with the exception of one, and that's only because we never really get to meet him). The crusty old librarian has a son in Vietnam who's missing. Doug's brothers have been dealing with their father far longer than Doug, and you can see the effect. The coach at school is still suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome. Doug's father even is lent a bit of redemption near the end, though whether or not the reader is willing to forgive him is up in the air (I, for one, don't).
There is also an art to taking a subject that is primarily of interest to adult, and making that subject palatable to a child audience. Louis Sachar did a fairly good job of it in the bridge-centric The Cardturner. John Grisham failed on every level when he penned the self-explanatory Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer. And Gary Schmidt set himself up for disaster when he brought up not only the subject of James Audubon's paintings but info on how to play horseshoes as well. I say he set himself up for disaster, but disaster was not forthcoming. He failed to fail disastrously. Instead, he manages to pull both subjects off. The horseshoes because they are a game and all games, even those played by folks who look like they may have served their country during the Civil War, are still essentially fun (caveat: If someone writes a shuffleboard book for 10-year-olds I may be proven wrong about this). The Audubon factor is tricky partly because it requires kids to care about dead, drawn birds. They have a little help in that Henry Cole penned the very Audubon-centric younger chapter book title A Nest for Celeste not long ago and some young readers may pick up on the name. Still and all, Schmidt and his publisher made the ultimately clever decision to begin each chapter with a painting of a bird that will play a role in Doug's life.
Generally speaking, motivations and characters are consistent here. Some moments made me question Doug's sanity, though. Here you have a kid who almost has a psychotic for a father. He knows this and he also knows that his father has his heart set on winning a trivia contest at the company picnic that year. So what does Doug do? He joins up with a nice old man throwing horseshoes and decides to give all the right answers himself. Now if you live with a psychotic then you have to live by the psychotic's rules. Doug doesn't, which works in the context of the story (A) because Doug is contrary by nature and (B) because in the end it turns out that the old man Doug befriended was probably the one person at the picnic who could deflect his father's attention. Still, for a moment there I wanted to shake that kid and remind him of the danger he was placing himself into. On a related note, I found myself haunted for quite some time after reading about what Doug's dad did to his own son years ago. It's one of the darkest things I've ever read in a children's novel, but not so much that it's inappropriate for younger readers. I suspect primarily older folks like myself will find it as disturbing as I do. Still . . . . *shudder*
I've heard some note that the notion in the book that an unknown, untried girl getting a Broadway part without any prior acting experience is, at best, laughable. They are probably correct about this. I admit that the Broadway show portion of the book is far less interesting than some of the rest of it. It brings some nice closure for the characters but sometimes feels a bit odd when you consider things like the fact that the kids in the show can live in Marysville and just travel to New York City to perform on weekends. Still, while I as an adult didn't quite buy it, it didn't hurt the book for me.
To my mind Gary Schmidt presents worlds that are full of decent people and not so decent people who have reasons for their weirdnesses. Worlds that you either wish you lived in or believe you already live in. There's nothing easy about this particular Schmidt story. At the same time, it's incredibly readable and fun. I credit Doug's voice. There's much to be said about a hero who can be a complete and total "Lucas" at times and yet still appeal to you. This is historical fiction that surpasses the usual trappings of the genre to become universal. Definitely one of the best books of the year. Catch it and catch it quick.
For ages 10 and up.
16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars outstanding!,
The library and the town's kind librarian, Mr. Powell, play a key role in the story, as Doug discovers that although "maybe stupid Marysville was a dump,...this place wasn't." At the second floor of the library, he finds a special room, with a huge book--a book displayed under glass, with only one picture showing. It's a gigantic picture of a bird, and Doug can't take his eyes off it. "It was the most terrifying picture I had ever seen. The most beautiful." It's an original Audubon, and it haunts Doug's imagination. Although Doug doesn't draw (since, as he quips in the book, only girls with pink bicycle chains draw), the kind librarian is soon leaving drawing supplies near the Audubon display that Doug is drawn to by some powerful magnetic force. When he finally picks up a pencil to copy Audubon's drawing, it felt "spectacular, " and Mr. Powell is soon giving him drawing lessons (was that in Mr. Powell's librarian job description?)
As much as Doug hates "stupid Marysville", he is quickly befriended not only by Mr. Powell, but also by Lil, a girl whose family owns the town's deli, and gets Doug a job delivering groceries on Saturdays for some of the more eccentric citizens of Marysville. Things aren't going too bad for Doug, until his older brother is suspected of some local robberies, his father's physical abuse is revealed to all his classmates, his brother comes back from Vietnam maimed physically and emotionally, and to top it off, pages of the precious Audubon manuscript are being sold off to pay the town's bills. Can Doug stop the cycle of abuse in his family and perhaps even put the town's Audubon book back together?
Schmidt is a masterful writer, managing to incorporate pathos, humor, loss, the power of art, friendship and more into this memorable novel. Doug's voice and his journey is one that the reader will not soon forget. The novel is pulled together by the Audubon prints, which serve as titles for each chapter and are pictured in the novel as well, and often seem to mirror what is happening in Doug's own life. As Doug comes up with ways to reconstruct the precious book, he is also making sense of his own life and future.
Okay for Now is already getting some pre-Newbery buzz, and perhaps Schmidt will be adding a Newbery to his two Newbery honor awards (for The Wednesday Wars and Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy. Schmidt, who is a professor of English at Calvin College with six children of his own, is working on the third volume of The Wednesday Wars trilogy. That's a book that will definitely be on my "to read" pile.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of My Top Six All-Time Favorite Books,
Wow. (!) I am a father who has seven years teaching experience (two at the middle school level) and this book both broke my heart and made me laugh hysterically. Often at the same exact moment.
Schmidt tells the story of eighth-grader Doug Swieteck as he deals with difficulties and pain faciong him at every turn. Doug's voice is believable, endearing, strong, and hopeful, even as he complains abotu everything from the town his family moves to, to school teachers and grocery deliveries. Readers qill quickly (read: IMMEDIATELY) fall in love with Doug and root for him page after page. Doug's journey is vividly revealed, and the language makes readers feel as though Doug himself is sharing with them the story--as if they themselves are a customer on Doug's grocery delivery route, and he's decide to tell all.
I read the book in about two days, even though my wife and I were transitioning our 2-year old to a big boy bed and were already sleep deprived. However, once we got my son settled, I couldn't keep away from OKAY FOR NOW. The book literally squeezed and squeezed my heart and refused to let go. When I finished, tears in my eyes, laughter dancing on my lips, all I could say to my wife was, "You've got to read this book."
As a previous teacher, I would have done everything in my power to get this on our curriculum for my 7th graders. It's a book that is almost impossible not to enjoy. Additionally--and more importantly--it's a book that gets inside your soul and doesn't leave it in the same state once the final page closes.
It makes my list of All-Time Top Six Books (which is a hard feat to come by!). (The others, for the curiously inclined, are TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD by Harper Lee, THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV by Fyodor Dostoevsky, A RAISIN IN THE SUN by Lorraine Hansberry--I know, I know, a play makes the list of "books", but I can't help it, it's that powerful--MOCKINGBIRD by Kathryn Erskine, and THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN by Mark Twain.) I kept my this old list at five pretty tight, but Gary Schmidt's stunning and transforming novel forces the list to six!
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Review of Okay for Now,
But then I pick up a book like Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt. And I'm reminded that great books don't always have to be over 500 pages long with tiny font sizes and filled with heavy, ponderous thought-matter. Instead they can be unassuming, with a slightly tacky cover and filled with the every-day life of a boy, Doug, who deals with an abusive father (although you wouldn't hear him admit it), a bully of a brother, a mother with a beautiful smile and a whole cast of characters making up the stupid town life of a stupid small town in New York.
With such a cast of characters, and a setting that relies heavily on a series of bird pictures out of a famous book (added to illustrate the story), Gary Schmidt works his magic. I loved The Wednesday Wars for teaching me what it would be like to be a youthful boy, with all its awkwardness and trials, and Schmidt shows me again what it is like - but this time with different challenges, with heart-breaking life happening around and with the guts given to a character you can't help but fall in love with, allowing him to raise his chin and push forward and find that bit of good in everyone, everything and every place around him.
I cannot recommend this book enough and, like it's predecessor, The Wednesday Wars, if this book isn't sporting a medal on it soon there is simply no justice in the world.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyed Everything But The End,
At first, Doug thinks everything is stupid and likes to sarcastically throw around the word terrific, which makes him kind of hard to stomach. Then Doug sees those Audubon plates, six of which have been sold from the library's otherwise pristine copy of Birds of America to folks with the money to afford them, and his world slowly begins to change. Until Doug saw those plates, wearing a baseball cap or jacket signed by Joe Pepitone would have best fit his style. Even braving tough Mrs. Windermere, who acts like someone out of Twilight Zone, would be more on his level. Doug bikes out to her place every Saturday to bring her ice-cream every Saturday, as part of his weekly delivery job for the boss of a girl named Lil whom Doug ends up thinking is terrific for real. Throughout the course of Okay for Now, Doug changes his mind about lots of stuff such as books are stupid, drawing is for chumps, and his life is no one else's business. Once Doug shows this other side, you'll find him more palatable. Your heart might even break, the way mine did, at how Doug reacts whenever his family gets accused of theft. I've met kids who turn cold whenever their world goes wrong. In those turmoiled times, Doug might let you hug him, except of course then he'd be a chump for accepting such kindness. And what fourteen-year-old boy, even those from the best of homes (which Doug is not), wants to be viewed as a chump?
Now that you have a feel for who Doug is, let's talk about the adults in Okay for Now. Both of Doug's parents are around, although in the case of Doug's dad you have to wonder in the case of his dad how great that is. When in the middle of a conversation with him, his dad cuts him off. About that reaction, Doug says, "That's all I got out. My father's hands are quick. That's the kind of guy he is." His mom is a different story. Some of the funniest and sweetest moments come from those shared between Doug and his mom. The morning after the family moved to Marysville, his mom observes, "I don't think I've ever been in a room where you could fry eggs while holding them in your hand," and then throws a whole glass of water over Doug. No kidding. She smiles and laughs. Doug smiles and laughs. Then he takes another glass and fills it up--and throws the water over her. Soon, they're having a water war. Doug and her share many moments like that.
After his parents, the adults most involved in Doug's life are two librarians, the junior high teachers, and the folks he meets on his delivery route for a grocery store. Here we can play a little game of compare-and-contrast. On Doug's first visit to the library, he arrives too early and so sits on the steps to wait for the library to open. The first librarian looks at him as if he is trespassing and tells him that the steps were not made for him to sit on, especially since by doing so he might prevent others from using the library. Then she sniffs. Given his contrary nature, Doug sprawls his legs out as far as he can spread them and continues to wait. The second librarian arrives shortly afterwards, also wearing glasses on a chain looped around his neck. When he sees Doug, he laughs and says, "I see you've met Mrs. Merriam." As for the teachers, there are plenty of them. Unfortunately, a few days before Washington Irving Junior High started, the local deli was broken into and Doug's brother was blamed. The geography teacher pauses before handing over a copy of a brand new textbook. The world history teacher announces they're going to start studying barbarian hordes and looks at Doug. And so the list continues until Doug meets his science teacher. Mr. Ferris tells him that the basic principle of physical science is: "Two bodies cannot occupy the same space at the same time." Loosely translated this means: Doug Swieteck is not his brother. Now if you think that for the rest of the school year all the other teachers ostracizes Doug, think again. Gary Schmidt is much too smart of an author to resort to cliché characters.
* SPOILER ALERT *
That's why one part of Okay for Now disappointed me: the ending. Without telling you how, let me say that Schmidt made the mistake some authors do of needing to wrap up every last loose end. Moreover, those loose ends were turned into happy ones. If you recall, I shared earlier that I've met kids who turn tough whenever the world goes wrong. It's like they decide that if the world betrays them, than too bad about it. The problem is, it's pretty hard to shut out the world without giving up on life itself. Yet that's how some kids handle the world because, if truth be told, criminal brothers and abusive dads don't typically change. Given how well-written and smart Schmidt wrote the bulk ofOkay for Now, I feel he betrayed all the real Dougs in the world by suggesting that every wrong will eventually get righted. It's like slapping a happy face on a funeral bulletin. Yet, for everything else that I loved about Okay for Now, I'm still recommending it.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Newbery,
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars if you had been paying attention,
One of Okay For Now's greatest strengths is Doug's interaction with the reader. This is shown through how he describes certain events--frequently things are "none of your business"--and the gorgeous descriptions of Audubon's Birds of America art plates.
Schmidt does a masterful job of describing, through Doug's voice, abusive relationships without being too explicit. Doug's father, an apparent alcoholic, is introduced by Doug: "My father's hands are quick. That's the kind of guy he is." Doug finds solace in his relationships with his mother, a passive, long-suffering housewife, and an eclectic ensemble of adults. In these relationships, Doug begins to see potential in himself and light breaks through on his life.
Doug's voice is created by repeating little slogans, like "do you know what that feels like?" or "if you had been paying attention, you would know." These phrases are believable; Doug seems to expect the read to be older than him, and therefore not in need of context. Down to the way he explains events, Doug is consistent in the types of details (temperature and color are usually mentioned) he gives, and cuts off unpleasant details with a curt remark how something is "none of your business."
At times, this strength can become a weakness. Doug repeats his slogans a little too frequently at times. Of course, this also fairly realistic: most eighth grade boys can't really describe how they feel.
At its heart, Okay For Now tells the story of an at-risk boy who begins to overcome the trials in his life through the discovery of his love for drawing, and friends and community who reach out to him. Although he has his ups and downs, by the end, hope has come to replace resentment and fear. The book is expertly crafted, and avoids clichés. I highly recommend it.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Deserving of the Newbery,
I don't know of any other author who can make an ordinary boy's ordinary life so incredibly interesting. I guess it just goes to show you that Robert Liparulo isn't the only one who can keep you up late at night needing to read just one more page.
Aside from the pacing and readability, the character development and Schmidt's usual literary genius are just added bonuses. I wouldn't be a bit surprised if this book earns Gary D. Schmidt his third Newbery Honor, or even the Medal itself.
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Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt (Paperback - February 5, 2013)