There are a lot of elements in Okay for Now that made me keep moving it to the bottom of my stack: it’s set in the Vietnam War era, the protagonist loves baseball, there’s an abusive father, and the coming of age is spurred by Audubon paintings. If those are things that typically turn you off, move past them because this is a special book that will appeal to all readers.
When his father loses his job, Doug and his family move to Marysville, NY (aka nowhere), and no one is happy about it. While his father spends time with his drinking buddy, Doug’s mother worries about her oldest son in Vietnam, middle son Christopher gets in trouble with the police, and Doug clashes with his new teachers. Author Gary D. Schmidt packs so much drama into this novel, events that shocked me and brought me to tears several times. A past incident of abuse that Doug suffered is the worst I have ever read, one that haunts me and breaks my heart.
Despite the darkness of the novel, there is sweetness to balance it out. I was particularly moved by the evolution of Doug’s relationships with his teachers. His English teacher says, “There are some things in this world that we cannot fix, and they happen, and it is not our fault, though we still might have to deal with them. There are other things in this world that we can fix. And that is what good teachers like me are for.” Aside from the last line, this quote could be Schmidt’s thesis statement. Doug makes the decision to improve his life, and despite setbacks, is a success.
Best of all? Schmidt’s writing brings Doug to life. His voice is incredible: a mixture of snarky attitude and joy. Doug speaks directly to the reader, revealing himself slowly and inviting us to his world. I put Okay for Now down with a happy sigh. This is the companion to a Newbery winner, The Wednesday Wars, which I have not read, but will remedy this week.