Okay for Now by Gary Schmidt

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While I was posting Inly’s summer reading list over the past couple of weeks, I was also reading. It seems that everywhere I go (brick and mortar or online bookstore), there is a boy wearing a brown bag over his head in a way that invites the potential reader to “uncover” him. I finally did. Gary Schmidt’s young adult novel, Okay for Now, is moving, engaging and optimistic.

Doug Swieteck, the protagonist of Okay for Now, does not have it easy – far from it. His father is emotionally abusive. He has one brother in Vietnam (it’s 1968) and another who seems to have a radar for trouble. His mother is sweet, but obviously has a number of issues competing for her attention. At the beginning of the novel, Doug and his family have moved to Marysville, New York, a move Doug is not happy about.  In fact, throughout much of the novel, Doug refers to his new town as “stupid Marysville.”  Things begin to change for Doug when he discovers a book of paintings by John James Audubon. Through the paintings and a job he takes as a grocery store delivery boy, Doug meets people who change his life.

One of the themes of Schmidt’s novel is the healing power of art. I loved how this played out. Schmidt clearly knows his Audubon and there are things he points out (through a wonderful character who works in the Marysville Library), that sent me rushing to Google images to study Audubon’s birds more closely.

This is the first book I’ve read this summer that is already tucked into my “back to school” bag for September.  Okay for Now is a wonderful book for middle school readers. Some parts, especially those about Doug’s father, are tough and complex.  In the meantime, if you have a 6th, 7th, or 8th grade student who says “I need something good to read,” hand them this book.

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