Monday, January 23, 2012

Marvleous Middle Grade Monday: Okay for Now

Okay . . . (sorry, I couldn't resist starting that way), the Newbery will be awarded this morning, but I wrote this MMGM post prior to that announcement (and posted it early too) and I'm hoping, hoping Okay for Now at least makes the honor list. Not that I know enough to have a say in those but because this book impacted me so thoroughly. The brilliance of Gary D. Schmidt's The Wednesday Wars which mixes history, Shakespeare, spot on voice, and a great middle grade read seems impossible to follow, but Schmidt is amazing. There's no other explanation. In Okay for Now Schmidt takes a side character from The Wednesday Wars, mixes in the same historical period (the Vietnam War era) but on a different level, adds art and John James Audubon, more spot on voice, and comes up with another middle grade wonder.

The premise: Doug Swieteck and his family are forced by his father to move to "stupid" Marysville--a small town with nothing for any member of the family except a badly paying job for his father. Doug's father is no father at all, just a jerk who happens to have kids and a wife. Doug's mom tries to do right by her kids but is a beat-down, told to shut-up kind of wife. Doug's bully older brother is accused of robbery, and his oldest brother is returning from the Vietnam War. Things look more than bleak for Doug.

What keeps readers reading: Everything. I'm serious. I cannot possibly choose one, two, or even eight things that keep you reading this book. It is the whole package. Doug meets Lil, gets a job delivering groceries, learns he loves art and drawing through John James Audubon's plates at the local library, encounters stereo-typing and discrimination of enormous magnitude, survives impossible family situations, and somehow doesn't end up a life-hating criminal.

Perhaps the one thing that struck me most about Okay for Now is this: I have never--EVER!--disliked a character in ANY story I've read as much as I disliked Doug's father. Not even Voldemort. No kidding. The reason is because people like Doug's father really exist in the world. Villains like Voldemort--though hideous and awful and based in reality--are imaginary. Villains like Doug's father are real and all too plentiful.

Thankfully Doug learns real friends do exist, there are adults who care, people do love and believe, and redemption can come even if you don't believe it will.

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18 comments:

  1. I actually own this book and it is still sitting on my to-read pile. Other books keep getting in the way. I loved Wednesday Wars, so I know I will love it. I must read it soon! Gary Schmidt is speaking at our SCBWI regional spring conference, so I definitely will read it by then!

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  2. I've never heard of this book before (or even the author), but you have me intrigued now! I especially love the sound of the art angle, since that has been a lifelong passion of mine. If I ever spot this book in the wild, I'll have to check it out!

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  3. Thanks for sharing. I need to start reading this series. So many books to read.

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  4. I'm so with you. Loved this book, have loved all his books. And I've been trying to understand how exactly he does it, in order to improve my own writing. His books are "quiet," in the sense that they are not full of action with high stakes. Yet the story is gripping, because you truly inhabit his character's world - you don't want to leave - I want to be their neighbor! The dad's turnaround at the end wasn't realistic to me, but I didn't care - the rest was so perfect.

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    1. Right on with the ending. I didn't care either. And you're description of Schmidt's writing is perfect.

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  5. I'm going to have to get The Wednesday Wars along with Okay for Now. It's time I look at this author a bit closer. Thanks for the recommendation Barbara.

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  6. I loved The Wednesday Wars, and I also loved his YA novel, Trouble. But I haven't yet read this one.

    And now we know it didn't win, but so what? Some of the best books out there (look at The Phantom Tollbooth) didn't win the Newbery.

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  7. There are so many books that were worthy of a Newbery this year, this one just sat so hard on my heart (in a good way) . . .

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  8. I haven't read any of Schmidt's work. He sounds like another John Green type author where everything he writes just works, especially because of the characters.

    Hey, two parents! The author makes them "unavailable" though - one as a bully and one as a victim.

    Is this a YA book or MG? Sounds like an older read.

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    1. It's definitely an upper MG read--one of those that doesn't quite fit MG but not totally YA either.

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  9. Need to buy this one. I know I will like it/love it. There were somed surprised tweeters today when it didn't honor/win the Newbery!

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  10. I loved the Wednesday Wars (it was one of my first MMGM reviews). Interestingly, this one was bumped up to YA for the Cybils awards, so there is definitely some argument about where it really fits.

    Thanks for a great review. I have heard that the father is hugely unlikable!

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  11. I am still just not getting this one. I have pitched it to several children and they really had no interest in it, so I don't think I'll buy it. I know that everyone else loves it, though!

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  12. Michael, it's certainly an in-between, has it's own gray area (much like I thought Heart of a Samurai was) and for older kids and young teens.

    Ms. Yingling, awwwww, my son was the motivator behind checking this one out from the library. We were even on a waiting list.

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  13. Thanks for the review. I haven't read this one yet, but you've made me want to. :o)

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  14. I love books that can't be easily categorized.

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  15. This was my favorite read of 2011 hands down, and I'm amazed it got virtually nothing. (The recording award is nice, but for me its removed from a real award for the BOOK, you know?) Maybe it's that some of the plot twists near the end really are kinda out there? I'm reading and liking Dead End in Norvelt, the winner, now, and I do enjoy it so far. Don't know, though, if I'll consider its power equal to OFN.

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  16. My son read Dead End in Norvelt and enjoyed it. I'll be picking it up at the library soon myself. In fact, every time I glanced at its cover at the library, I thought it was Okay for Now because the covers are so similar.

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