Monday, June 24, 2013

Navigating Childhood Without a Compass - "Okay For Now" by Gary D. Schmidt

Title: Okay For Now
Author: Gary D. Schmidt
Publisher: Clarion Books
Release Date: April 2011
Recommended for Ages: 12 and up

Synopsis (from Goodreads) -

Midwesterner Gary D. Schmidt won Newbery Honor awards for Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boys and The Wednesday Wars, two coming-of-age novels about unlikely friends finding a bond. Okay For Now, his latest novel, explores another seemingly improbable alliance, this one between new outsider in town Doug Swieteck and Lil Spicer, the savvy spitfire daughter of his deli owner boss. With her challenging assistance, Doug discovers new sides of himself. Along the way, he also readjusts his relationship with his abusive father, his school peers, and his older brother, a newly returned war victim of Vietnam.

My Review:

I started this book yesterday (Sunday) afternoon.  I finished it yesterday evening before I went to bed.  Barring a few moments where I actually had to put down the book and take a deep breath because of certain scenes, I pretty much read the whole thing straight through.

The whole story is told more or less in a stream-of-consciousness, which I'm not usually a fan of.  But for some reason, Schmidt's thirteen-year-old protagonist, Doug, kept me riveted to the story.  It's almost like Doug is telling the story all in one breath (except that the story takes place over the course of a year - but I guess you can do that kind of stuff in prose).  What's remarkable about this book is how Doug basically treats events in his life like they're no big deal, but you know that they're a very big deal to him.  But he doesn't want to let on that they mean too much to him because he's use to disappointment and he doesn't want to act like he's gotten his hopes up.

In so many ways, Doug Swieteck reminds me of Scout Finch from To Kill A Mockingbird. Doug is just a kid trying to navigate his way through events that are so much bigger than him and he does it in a way that his young mind can understand. The main difference between Doug and Scout is that Doug doesn't have the Best Literary Dad Ever to help translate these events into his thought processes and he more or less has to figure it out on his own (though he does have plenty of people to guide him along the way). The reader knows what's going on, even if Doug doesn't or can't say it in so many words. I love stories that can take a kid's point of view and make it compelling and honest - like reminding you what it's like to be a kid and have to deal with adults' problems when you don't quite understand why the adults are doing the stupid things they're doing.

I think another reason I connected with this book so much is that it reminded me of some things that have happened in my own family - much that happened long before I was born, but also some that I have vague memories of from when I was very little. Not all of it was good, but it's also a reminder that you can still love your parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles despite all the stupid things they may have done (and remember that your kids and your nieces and nephews may think of the stupid things you've done years down the road). I just have a lot of thoughts and feelings about this book and very little of it's really about the technical aspects of the writing and it's all about relating to the characters and the time period and how you deal with the world and make sense of it all when you're a kid. And I'm still trying to make sense of the world at twenty-eight.

But as long as I can find books like Okay For Now to help me work it out, well that's a pretty good start.

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