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Okay For Always

A review of Okay For Now by Gary D. Schmidt, in which awesome grownups help shape a boy without a good family role model.

Okay For Always

BOOK REPORT for Okay For Now by Gary D. Schmidt

Cover Story: Between Friends
BFF Charm: Most Definitely
Swoonworthy Scale: 6
Talky Talk: The Wonder Years
Bonus Factors: John James Audubon, Awesome Grownups, Librarians, Jane Eyre
Relationship Status: YAngelist Scripture

Cover Story: Between Friends

No need to brown bag it -- this book comes with its own! It's not a bad cover, but it's obviously a book about a 13-year-old boy who likes baseball, so if you have street cred issues, you might wanna keep this between friends.

The Deal:

14-year-old Doug Swieteck has to move to a small town in the Catskills because his drunk wife-and-son-beater dad mouthed off to his boss at the paper mill and got fired, and the only job he could get was in a paper mill where his no-good drunk best friend Ernie Eco works. Anyway, life kind of sucks for Doug. His oldest brother's off in Vietnam, his other brother is a hoodlum who stole his autographed Joe Pepitone baseball cap -- given to him by Joe himself (P.S. DO NOT Google image search this guy at work. Or just ... ever. Especially don't click this link. If you do, don't blame me. I warned you.), and now he's stuck in a crappy little town where there's nothing to do but go to the library. AND there's an obnoxious know-it-all girl who sucks because she's pretty and funny, so she's impossible to ignore, and of course the whole town judges Doug by his father and older brother's antics (did you read The Wednesday Wars? The brother is the infamous "Doug Swieteck's brother", with a legend akin to that junkyard monster dog in The Sandlot).

But when Doug discovers John James Audubon's birds in the library, his life starts to change, beginning with Mr. Powell, the librarian who helps him learn to draw, and ending with just about everyone in the town -- including Doug himself.

BFF Charm: Most Definitely

*Cue Handel's Messiah*

I don't know if I can adequately express how much I love Doug, Lil, Mr. Powell, Mrs. Windermere, Miss Cowper ... oh, I could go on and on. Anyway, Doug cracks me up and makes me cry and I want to adopt him and give him hugs and very cold Cokes and tell him he may be skinny but he's not a "skinny thug". He's such a typical 14-year-old, with a head full of baseball stats and an aversion to looking like he cares about school (though he secretly does, of course). He struggles because he wants to be given a chance to prove his own worth, but he has almost as low an opinion of himself as Marysville does.

Swoonworthy Scale: 6

The only reason the swoon here is only a 6 is because Doug and Lil are in 8th grade in 1968, so there's not much by way of sexytimes or even kissytimes (and I don't want to read about 13-year-old sexytimes anyway). But as their antagonism evolves into affection and real love, I just swooned my little heart out all over the place.

Talky Talk: The Wonder Years

Doug's the narrator of the book, and the story he tells sounds just like a Wonder Years voiceover, if Kevin Arnold's dad beat the shit out of him and his mom regularly and every male figure in his life was either a drunk, a criminal or both. Even though Doug's life sucks, the book has the same nostalgic quality so common in coming-of-age TV and movies that I couldn't help but hear both 14-year-old Doug and a grown-up Doug voiceover in my head.

I love Doug's way with words. His constant "I'm not lying" is not a lie, but you also know he's covering up a world of hurt, like the bruises his brother makes sure to give him in places that won't show. He has such a wisecracking way about him, though, a way of melding his tough-guy protective persona and his perceptive, intelligent real self that's endearing.

You know, there are good reasons to learn how to read. Poetry isn't one of them. I mean, so what if two roads go two ways in a wood? So what? Who cares if it made all that big a difference? What difference? And why should I have to guess what the difference is? Isn't that what he's supposed to say?

or

Mrs. Daugherty was keeping my bowl of cream of wheat hot, and she had a special treat with it, she said. It was bananas.

In the whole story of the world, bananas have never once been a special treat.

And my favorite:

In English, we were still on the Introduction to Poetry Unit, and I'm not lying, if I ever meet Percy Bysshe Shelley walking down the streets of Marysville, I'm going to punch him right in the face.

Me too, Doug, me too.

Bonus Factor: John James Audubon

A huge part of the book is Doug's relationship with Audubon's paintings of birds. Each chapter is framed around one of Audubon's birds, one Doug's learning to draw or one he discovers hanging in someone's home or office around town. It could be a clunky rhetorical device, but Schmidt's storytelling is so vibrant, he more than pulls it off. The only sad thing is the reproductions in the book are in black and white, and it's totally worth sitting down and Googling the birds in the book.

Bonus Factor: Awesome Grownups

I like to think of myself as an awesome grown up, so of course I love encountering grownups who nurture and teach, as well as grownups who may be flawed but who 1) are not afraid to admit their mistakes in front of children and b) show they can grow and become better people. So much YA has parents and grownups who are central casting versions of stodgy, out-of-touch adults who don't know how to text or tie their shoes, or the opposite -- the too hip to be squares who try too hard. Okay for Now is full of grownups who are real people, with real flaws and real dreams, who don't pander to kids but don't ignore them, either, and I love it.

Bonus Factor: Librarians

How could I not love the librarians in this story? Mr. Powell is kind and nurturing, so he's a major duh -- he's the type of old man you'd want to shrink down to action figure size and carry around in your pocket. I even love grouchy old Mrs. Merriam, maybe because I know how much I hate it when there's a pile of books that need to be cataloged and no one's working on them. I also know there's a heart that may be dusty and cold and three sizes too small under the high-necked lace blouse and glasses on a chain around her neck, but I bet it has the capacity to grow three sizes too big.

Bonus Factor: Jane Eyre

As Doug overcomes a couple obstacles keeping him down, he gets really into Jane Eyre, and it's hilarious to watch him incorporate bits of the novel into his own story. Cheeky monkey. It's also central to a slightly unbelievable but crucial turn at the end of the book. Really, though, I just gotta say I love some Jane.

Casting Call:

Can I cast bits and pieces of The Sandlot, My Girl and The Goonies here? Who cares if they're too old, right? No? Ok, fine.

Elle Fanning as Lil Spicer

Miles Heizer as Doug

I have no idea if this kid is good or not, but he has the right looks. Plus, he's only 16 or 17, and not part of the Disney factory (as far as I know).

Relationship Status: YAngelist Scripture

This book is perfect for YAngelism. Not only is it completely awesome, there's something about it that will appeal to just about anyone. Guy? Check. Baseball fan? Check. Hate reading? Got your book here. Like birds? Oookay. Like to draw? Here you go. Had a tough childhood? So does Doug. Had a great childhood? You'll still like it. TRUST ME.

Meghan Miller's photo About the Author: Meghan is an erstwhile librarian in exile from Texas and writer for Forever Young Adult. She loves books, cooking and homey things like knitting and vintage cocktails. Although she’s around books all the time, she doesn’t get to read as much as she’d like.