Friday, August 12, 2011

Review of Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt

Schmidt, Gary D. Okay for Now.  Clarion, 2011.

There's something excruciatingly appealing about tough-guy characters with a heart of gold - think of Harlan Coben's Myron Bolitar, Robert B. Parker's Spenser, and plenty of other laconic guys with chips on their shoulders and sweetness in their souls.

Such a character is 8th-grader Doug Swieteck.  He's the third boy in a family of guys who act like jerks, from his dad on down - but to Doug's credit, he does struggle against this legacy.  When his dad moves the family to a house Doug calls the Dump in a small and uninteresting town, Doug doesn't exactly feel sanguine about the possibility of anything good coming out of it - and he doesn't go out of his way to make anything good happen - not at first.

But he meets a girl named Lil, gets a delivery job with her dad, gets turned on to art (and specifically to Audubon's bird paintings) by a librarian named Mr. Powell, and things start turning around.  Except - his dad is simply ghastly, his mom is a sweet, powerless nonentity (or she is to this reader, anyway), one brother is a bully, the other comes home from Vietnam with severe damage, and lots of folks are quick to believe that Doug is a bad egg. 

And it's true that he's not always so great at dealing with adversity - but art and friendship prevail, as does a kind of goodness of soul that seems, like a benign flu, to be passable from one person to another if there's the right kind of contact.

Doug's voice is distinct and clear, full of dry wit and self-deprecating sarcasm and at times a piercingly sweet and honest tenderness.  The other characters aren't exactly realistic - some are too good to be true, such as Mr. Powell, others are eccentric in that small-town way that novels love to savor, and Doug's dad is so appalling that I couldn't understand how anyone could remain in the same room with him, much less married to him - but Doug's relationship to each is intriguing, and Doug himself is very real (if he too is occasionally too good to be true, I for one am more than willing to forgive him).

Humor, heartbreak, and goofiness - it's all here.  The writing soars while managing to stay tethered to Doug's 8th-grade sensibilities.  The ending is tremulous and emotional but not soppy.  And the whole novel is entertaining and readable as heck.  This is damn good stuff.  Highly recommended for ages 11 to 14.


  1. One of my favorites this year.

  2. This was also one of my favorites this year. I'm hoping this will be on the Newbery short list. What do you think?