Thursday, April 17, 2014

Okay for Now, Gary D. Schmidt

Title:  Okay for Now
Author:  Gary D. Schmidt
Publisher:  Clarion Books
Year:  2011
Pages:  360
Genre:  Realistic Fiction, Historical Fiction
Themes:  Child Abuse, the Effects of War, Dealing with Loss, Learning Disabilities
Age Range:  5th-8th Grade

Summary:  from Goodreads
Okay For Now, his latest novel, explores another seemingly improbable alliance, this one between new outsider in town Doug Swieteck and Lil Spicer, the savvy spitfire daughter of his deli owner boss. With her challenging assistance, Doug discovers new sides of himself. Along the way, he also readjusts his relationship with his abusive father, his school peers, and his older brother, a newly returned war victim of Vietnam.

Gary Schmidt is well known for his Newbery honor books, Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boys and The Wednesday Wars.   His books explore the unlikely friendships that can develop when seemingly incompatible people find common ground.  He returns to the world of The Wednesday Wars for this novel, making bad boy Doug Swietack the focus of Okay for Now.

Things in Doug's life are pretty tough-an abusive father, a bully of a brother, and another off fighting in Viet Nam.  His one bright spot at home is his mother, who does everything she can to mitigate his father's rages, but who is just as likely to fall prey to them.  Things aren't much better at school.  He never learned to read, and his teachers decide before they even meet him that he is probably the same kind of trouble maker his older brothers were.  Things don't improve when his father loses his job and moves the family to a new town looking for work.  When stores start getting robbed, the entire town assumes it must be one of the Swietacks, and sentiment turns against them pretty quickly.

Doug is saved by a quirky cast of characters who help him discover new parts of himself.  Lil Spicer, the boss's daughter, pushes him to be a better person than his father or brothers; an elderly librarian who encourages his drawing talent, and a reclusive writer who helps him discover the power of words.  This is not always an easy story to read, because Schmidt does not shy away from describing, though not in great detail, the father's alcoholism and rough treatment of the family.  Doug doesn't always make the best choices, but he strives to be a better person throughout the book, and mostly he succeeds.  In this way I think that a lot of students, especially those who have also been misjudged or who have faced similar situations at home or school, will really be able to relate to Doug.  There is also plenty of meat here for discussion, making it good to use for guided reading or as a book club selection for upper elementary or middle school kids.