A few weeks ago I finished Gary Schmidt’s “Okay for Now,” a heartbreakingly beautiful story about a boy who clings to his love of Joe Pepitone and the friendship of a neighborhood girl to get him through the really hard parts of his life.
WARNING: SPOILER ALERT BELOW!
The book centers around Doug Swieteck, a 14 year-old-boy who moves to “boring Marysville, NY” and has all the odds stacked against him. The neighbors in his new town treat him poorly and his father verbally abuses him while his mother does nothing more then stand by fearful herself. Doug’s father sometimes hits him and verbally abuses him on an almost daily basis – spitting ugly words and even going so far as to steal some of Doug’s most beloved possessions. What I loved most about “Okay for Now” was Schmidt’s use of perspective and play on words. The entire story is played through Doug’s eyes and Schmidt makes sure you are in Doug’s shoes through his simplistic wording and childish phrases. He lets us in on all of Doug’s thoughts – those said out loud and others kept inside. The reader gets an in-depth look at Doug’s hurt, struggles and personal feelings of triumph.
After Doug moves, he starts to visit the Marysville Public Library, mainly because there isn’t anything else to do in “boring old Marysville.” It’s there that he meets Mr. Powell, a librarian, and where Doug falls in love with John James Audubon’s drawings of wild birds. Mr. Powell takes a liking to Doug and shows him how to draw in Audubon’s style. The drawings not only give Doug an escape from his own life but they also ignite in Doug confidence he never thought he had. Along the way, we also meet Lil Spicer who first met Doug on the steps of the library and lovingly called him “skinny thug.” Lil and Doug become fast friends and later grow inseparable to the very end.
It’s been awhile since I’ve read a book that could make me laugh out loud, cry and hope, It’s usually one or the other. I gravitate toward books that carry heavy messages and can move me emotionally. Doug comes from a family who has very little, and he endures constant physical and verbal abuse from his father and older brother. But, it’s Doug’s triumph that is the focal point of the story. He learns how to stand up for himself, face his fears, and love others despite his mistreatment. For me, it was most eye-opening when Doug made an extreme effort to reach out to his Physical Education teacher even after the teacher had treated him like garbage most of the story. Lo and behold, the teacher softened up to Doug, and their relationship in the end reminds me that nothing is impossible. Every one of us need love, and it’s important to show love to everyone no matter what. If you’re looking for a book with a fantastic underdog to cheer on or if you’re looking to be humbled – “Okay for now” is it! I promise you won’t be disappointed.