Top 100 Children’s Novels #44: Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt
Can’t get this book out of my head. There’s not one big lobbing story arc here. It’s a rollercoaster. Very high highs immediately followed by the lowest of lows. Coming in rapid fire. At one point I involuntarily yelled “noooooooooooo” right out loud. You know characters have captured your mind and heart when that happens. – Aaron Zenz
“Let me just say this right up front: Gary Schmidt was robbed. He deserved the 2012 Newbery. He earned it. This book was far and away the best book of the year. To not award it the gold was bad enough, but to completely snub it and not even give it an honor? Unforgivable. And I’ll sing it ’til my dyin’ day.
Schmidt has created an unforgettable character in Doug Swieteck. Bold, unsure, angry, loving, cocky, and humble, this young man is as dynamic as they come. As the book’s narrator, his voice is absolutely perfect. He is one of my favorite characters I’ve read in a long, long time. Even when he was snarky, I loved this kid. I found myself wondering what he grew up to do with his life. That doesn’t happen too often, so this boy really stayed with me. Great voice, and I’m not lyin’.
Schmidt can sure paint a villain. So what if his dad is a jerk who hangs out with stupid Ernie Eco too much? So what? (I’m still not sure whether I forgive Schmidt for Doug’s dad. What a… yeah. Wow.) I also admire the way characters changed as Doug grew. Or was it Doug who was changing and viewing them differently? There is not a flat character in the book (save one, but we never really meet him, just hear about him). Each member of Doug’s family has a surprise or two up his or her sleeve, as does Doug’s father’s boss, “”Mr. Big-Bucks-Ballard””, who emerges as an admirable and noble character.
Okay for Now is moving, funny, infuriating, and completely wonderful.” – Kristi Hazelrigg
Yeah, I could have cut Kristi’s words down, but why do so? She puts the whole book in such a great light.
I bet you were wondering whether or not this would make the list or not. After all, if this year’s Newbery frontrunner Wonder by R.J. Palacio made our list, would memories allow last year’s frontrunner to make an appearance? You betcha. Our memories aren’t that short and the book was just that good.
The plot from my review reads, ” ‘You’re not always going to get everything you want, you know. That’s not what life is like.’ It’s not like the librarian Mrs. Merriam needs to tell Doug that. If any kid is aware that life is not a bed of roses, it’s Doug. Stuck in a family with a dad that prefers talking with his fists to his mouth, a sweet but put upon mom, a brother in Vietnam, and another one at home making his little brother’s life a misery, it’s not like Doug’s ever had all that much that’s good in his life. When he and his family move to Marysville, New York (herein usually referred to as ‘stupid Marysville’) things start to change a little. Doug notices the amazing paintings of birds in an Audubon book on display in the public library. The boy is captivated by the birds, but soon it becomes clear that to raise money, the town has been selling off different pages in the book to collectors. Between wanting to preserve the book, learning to draw, solving some problems at school, the return of his brother from Vietnam, and maybe even falling in love, Doug’s life in ‘stupid’ Marysville takes a turn. Whether it’s a turn for the better or a turn for the worse is up to him.”
A companion to his previous novel The Wednesday Wars, no one reading Schmidt’s latest felt the book required knowing its predecessor. A stand alone novel to its core (a rarity these days) the title became the center of a very hot Newbery debate. On the one hand folks knew that the writing was pretty much the best of the year. Schmidt, continually overlooked when it comes to the proper Newbery Award itself, seemed to have finally hit it out of the park. Unfortunately, people were severely divided on the ending and that, in the end, may have been what kept it from receiving even so much as a Newbery Honor.
- You can read the first chapter here.
- I adore the idea of reenacting book covers. Here’s one for this title.
Fellow author Richard Peck reviewed it for The New York Times. Spoiler Alert: he loved it.
PW liked it but said, “There are lovely moments, but the late addition of an implausible subplot in which Lil, who has never shown an interest in acting, is drafted for a role in a Broadway play, seems desultory considering the story’s weightier elements.”
Booklist disagreed, saying “Schmidt stretches credibility with another wish-fulfilling ending, but readers will likely forgive any plot contrivances as they enjoy Doug’s distinctive, rhythmic narration, inventively peppered with “stats” about his life, which reveals hard, sometimes shocking truths about the time period and, most of all, Doug’s family.”
Horn Book was also torn, “Schmidt incorporates a myriad of historical events from the 1968 setting (the moon landing, a broken brother returning from Vietnam, the My Lai massacre) that make some of the improbable plot turns (the father’s sudden redemption, for example) all the more unconvincing. Still, Doug’s story emerges through a distinctive voice that reflects how one beat-up kid can become a young man who knows that the future holds “so much for him to find.”
Kirkus didn’t even touch on it, saying “This is Schmidt’s best novel yet—darker thanÂ The Wednesday WarsÂ and written with more restraint, but with the same expert attention to voice, character and big ideas.”
And SLJ loved it and said, “Readers will miss Doug and his world when they’re done, and will feel richer for having experienced his engaging, tough, and endearing story.”
There are actually several videos out there of Gary talking about this book. This one, from his publisher, was the first:
And his interview with Kirkus:
In conjunction with my library he answered questions via a webcast:
He spoke at The National Book Festival:
And here you can see him read from the book:
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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