Monday, July 18, 2011

Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt

Readers were introduced to Doug Swieteck in the 2008 Newbery Honor winning book The Wednesday Wars. He’s mentioned by name seven times in the first two pages as Holling Hoodhood explains all the reasons why their teacher, Mrs. Baker, should hate him. This includes Doug’s list of 410 ways to get a teacher to hate you, a list containing strategies that became illegal around #167 and where #6 earns a two week suspension.

Yeah, that Doug Swieteck. Remember him? He’s back in Okay for Now, Gary D. Schmidt’s latest book, which features eighth-grade Doug as the main character. And instead of Doug’s 410 ways to get a teacher to hate you, Okay for Now is 360 pages to get a reader to love you.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s the same Doug Swieteck. But as readers learn about Doug’s abusive father, his oldest brother in Vietnam, his next brother a bully, and his kind and gentle mother smothered by her family situation, readers begin to understand Doug Swieteck as a person rather than just an antagonist.

Okay for Now opens with Doug’s father announcing that the family is moving to Marysville in upstate New York. The Swietecks move into The Dump in Stupid Marysville. “I hate this town,” Doug declares not long after arriving.

And now is where the reviewer generally gives an overview of plot. But I don’t want to. Instead, I want you to read Okay for Now based on my highest recommendation alone, to savor this book, to tear up and laugh and cheer at Doug’s actions and circumstances. I want you to share the same emotions as me as you discover more about Doug and appreciate how Gary D. Schmidt has constructed this masterful novel.

Doug likes statistics and often lists them for certain situations, so as Doug would say, here are the stats for what all readers should experience one their own, without a reviewer’s perspective. All readers should:
  • learn how to drink a really cold Coke from Lil, the first person and classmate Doug meets, outside the Marysville Public Library. 
  • hear Mr. Powell’s art lessons in the Marysville Public Library. 
  • feel the tension between the members of the Swieteck family. 
  • understand what makes Mr. Ferris set Clarence, the toy rocking horse, rocking. 
  • follow Doug on his grocery deliveries for Mr. Spicer, Lil’s father. 
  • see how Doug becomes the test subject for Miss Cowper’s County Literacy Unit. 
  • meet Mrs. Windermere and the god of creativity that sits on her desk. 
  • slowly recognize how John Audubon’s paintings in the library parallel Doug’s life as Doug learns more about the birds, the paintings, and art. 
You see? There’s so much … too much … okay. Try this:

Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt is about the year Doug Swieteck moves to Stupid Marysville, New York, how he slowly discovers the difference between the external persona he has created and the internal person he truly is, and which one he decides to be. It is at the same time heart-breaking and heart-warming. It demonstrates both the fragility and strength of human character. It will build within you an appreciation for birds, art, horseshoes, and the New York Yankees.

It is the best book I’ve read in some time and, quite simply, a book you must read.

2 comments:

Mike said...

How would you prepare readers going into this book thinking this will be like The Wednesday Wars?
I also loved this book, but my wife found it too difficult to read. This was because of the heartbreaking moments which you don't experience 1st hand in Holling's life. The Really Bad Things happen around Holling, but not necessarily to Holling. In Okay For Now, The Really Bad Things happen to Doug.
Is it because Holling's life is almost a charmed life? And Doug is just charming? I told my students that it is a spin-off of The Wednesday Wars, but sadder.

Brian said...

I think it's very similar to THE WEDNESDAY WARS, and I think Holling's desire to be his own person will prepare readers for Doug's desire to do the same. I also think readers will enjoy getting to know Doug beyond what is learned in THE WEDNESDAY WARS - his list of ways to get a teacher to hate you and "Doug Swieteck's brother."

The physical abuse that Doug experiences is more than Holling deals with, but other than that I'd say most of the really bad things happen around both of them. A sibling that is arrested and a sibling that runs away. A threatened marriage due to abuse (although signs point to a positive end) and a threatened marriage due to a career. Soldiers who die, return injured, and return healthy.

I'm not sure I agree with you about OKAY FOR NOW being sadder. We can say that Doug dealt with worse circumstances, but then shouldn't we say he also achieved greater accomplishments? His oldest brother and Coach Reed, reading, his father, Audubon's book, Broadway - all have incredible resolutions facilitated by Doug. I was happy for Holling when he told his father that being a man wasn't about a job but about choosing for yourself, but I was beyond happy - absolutely thrilled - with each of Doug's achievements.

I've posted additional thoughts at http://helpreaders2.blogspot.com/

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