Review | Okay For Now by Gary Schmidt

Okay for Now

The year’s not over yet, but Okay for Now will probably go down as the best book I will read this year, if not in the several years.

I’m not lying. It’s terrific, and I hope you will read it.

By the time I finished Okay for Now, I had read almost forty books this year.  A large number of them were geared towards teens, especially boys. On list of novels aimed at teen boys  that I’ve read this year, there is James Dashner‘s gripping tale The Maze RunnerBrandon Mull‘s ever creative  A World Without Heroes and Brandon Sanderson‘s innovative The Rithmatist, each excellent in their own right. And Robison WellsVariant kept me turning pages late into the night, as did David Farland‘s Nightingale.

Of all of them, though, none was more satisfying, fulfilling and memorable than Gary Schmidt‘s follow-up to The Wednesday Wars. Picking up right after the end of the adventures of Holling Hoodhood, Okay For Now takes the perspective of Doug Swieteck, Hoodhood’s friend and little brother to Hoodhood’s bully. When a job change takes them to “stupid Marysville,” Doug finds himself an unlikely friend in the Hermione-like Lil Spicer, daughter of the local deli owner. Over the course of his eight-grade year, Doug will overcome prejudices, his own shortcomings, make new friends and mentors, and learn that his destiny is in his own hands.

That all sounds so stereotypical and mundane, like what could be written on the back of almost any young adult novel. Believe me, then, when I say that there’s nothing stereotypical or mundane about Doug’s story. As he would say, “I’m not lying.” Schmidt has a talent for making scenes equally humorous and tragic, and he cleverly and subtly uses language to show and tell who and what is on the up and up with Doug and what is not.

“You know how that feels?” is a common phrase, something of a stage aside when Doug wants to accentuate his response to the situation, whether negative or positive. I found it clever that Doug would change then names of things subtly and without comment as their standing would change. For example, Christopher, Doug’s brother and the bully from The Wednesday Wars begins the book as “my brother,” but after an act of redemption becomes Christopher. Other labels that Doug uses with derision early in the book change, in connotation, as events unfold. In addition, Schmidt uses the imagery of art and Audubon’s collection of bird paintings to bring out and describe Doug’s experiences and growth.

It’s beautiful.

Another reason I loved–yes, I loved it–Okay For Now is for its unique and deep demonstration of the bonds between males, the things that strengthen them, as well as the things that weaken them. Looking at both of the books, it’s not hard to wonder if Schmidt has a soft spot in his heart for mothers and high standards for fathers, standards that he seems to think fathers don’t always live up to. Though the novels are certainly full of traditional families with loving and honorable fathers–the book takes place in the late 1960s, so the traditional family is certainly still at the forefront in society–both the Hoodhood and Swieteck families are headed by less than satisfactory fathers at the outset, causing a major source of conflict for both Doug and Holling.

Not only is his relationship with his father, and how his father’s relationship with his mother, a major focus of the story, but so are the relationships between Doug and his brothers, including Christopher who I mentioned earlier, and Lucas who comes home from Vietnam. Also important to Doug’s progress are relationships he develops with various other adults in the community, including teachers, librarians, and one eccentric playwright.

Okay For Now is a beautiful story about a boy, and it’s a story that will resonate with anyone, whether they remember what it was like to be 15 or not. With my own eight grade year now nearly two decades in the rear view mirror, reading Okay For Now took me back, reminding me of the growth and awkwardness of that tumultuous year and inspiring me to be more careful in my relationships.  It made me feel–pain, sadness, happiness, and excitement–all the emotions across the range and return to the joys and experiences of youth transitioning to adulthood.

The year’s not over yet, but Okay For Now will probably go down as the best book I will read this year, if not in the several years.

I’m not lying. It’s terrific, and I hope you will read it.

About Daniel

Daniel Burton lives in Salt Lake County, Utah, where he practices law by day and everything else by night. He reads about history, politics, and current events, as well as more serious genres such as science fiction and fantasy. You can also follow him on his blog where he muses on politics, the law, books and ideas.

  • Janet Seegmiller

    Thanks Daniel. I’ve read some other Schmidt books and have wondered about this one. I’ll put it on my list.

  • It’s a beautiful read, Janet, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. There’s no accounting for taste, of course, but I sure did like it.