Saturday, July 2, 2011

Okay for Now

Schmidt, Gary. 2011. Okay for Now. New York: Clarion.

Fourteen-year-old, Doug Swieteck, has never had an easy life as his abusive father's drinking has carried his family in a steady plunge down the social scale.  Now it has landed Doug, his mother and older brother in a rattle-trap rental house in the Catskills that Doug terms "the dump."  He can only hope that his brother, injured in Vietnam, condition unknown, will be able to find them at their new location.  In the meantime, he tries to cheer his mother and steer clear of his father and wise-guy older brother.  There's not much to do in Marysville, but he manages to find the public library - a favorite haunt of Lil Spicer, the grocer's daughter.
And so what if I've never been in a library before?  So what?  I could have gone into any library I wanted to, if I wanted to.  But I never did, because I didn't want to.  You think she's been to Yankee Stadium like I have?  You think Joe Pepitone's jacket is hanging up in her basement?
If Doug's demeanor often has a hard-edge, it is only a thin veneer, built up to protect the fragile young man inside. Mr. Powell, the local librarian, however, finds a way to remove Doug's rough outer shell - the paintings of James Audubon. Doug has a talent for art.
When I came down into the cool of the library that afternoon, it was only three thirty and no one else was in the whole place as far as I could see, so I don't know what Mrs. Everything-Has-to-Be-Cataloged-This-Second Merriam was all fussed up about.  Along the line of my thumb there was a dark streak from the pencil.  I decided I wouldn't wash my hands for a while to see if I could make it last.
     By the way, in case you weren't paying attention or something, did you catch what Mr. Powell called me? "Young artist."  I bet you missed that.
That this is a well-written, touching, humorous book has been acknowledged across the kidlitosphere. (links to reviews below) There are only two main debates that I've seen about this book, and I'll posit my opinion on both.

  • The cover:  I don't like it.  I don't think it does justice to such a wonderfully written book.  It appears to me to be too childish.  If you tend to judge a book by its cover, read this book anyway.  You won't regret it.
*Spoiler alert*
  • The redemption of Mr. Swieteck: While the previously drunken and abusive Mr. Swieteck's sudden and whole-hearted attitude change does not necessarily ring true, it is not outside the realm of possibility.  Perhaps as Doug has found salvation through the art of James Audubon, Mr. Swieteck has found redemption in his family and the actions of his three sons, each rising above the meanness of his current situation.  In short, I liked the ending.  It is not a negative for a well-told story to have a happy ending.  The offer of hope and salvation through art, the wings of birds, the public library and the love of family is a strength, not a weakness.  A great book for 12 and up.

Author of the Newbery Honor book, The Wednesday Wars (a companion title to Okay for Now), Gary D. Schmidt has written another phenomenal book.

Best paragraph in the book?

Mr. Powell raised an eyebrow. "I'm a librarian," he said.  "I always know what I'm talking about.  Mr. Sweiteck, does this gray look right?"

Read the first chapter here!
Okay for Now Educator Guide

Other reviews @
The Fourth Musketeer
Fuse #8
Dog Ear


  1. I loved this book and am a big fan of his. I agree about the cover. It still kind of boggles my mind. It should be something Audubon-related. But I think maybe they were trying to appeal to boys?
    I only had a problem with the abruptness of the change in Mr. Sweitick. I think it was possible to change, but it just happened so fast it was a little jarring.
    Thanks for posting the video. I hadn't seen it. Schmidt is the number one author that I would like to meet and get an autographed book!

  2. Shelly, Yes, it was abrupt, but nevertheless, a great book. As for the cover, I just can't figure it out. I assume that it's a bag from the Spicer's store and represents that he's hiding his true self, but why the big smile? Lisa