In The Wednesday Wars, the character of Doug Swieteck was a minor one, playing second fiddle to the lovable Holling Hoodhood. Good thing that Schmidt decided to make Doug the lead in Okay for Now. As a protagonist, Doug represents all the potential that young adults can become, given the support and encouragement of family and friends.
The novel is set in a small town in New York state during the Vietnam War. Doug's family has just relocated to this quaint spot, where the library is only open during Saturdays, where every one seems to know one another, and where first impressions usually are important. For Doug, the last one can be very problematic, because of his troublesome father and his wayward older brother.
Pretty soon, Doug becomes friends with the indomitable Lil Spicer, whose father owns Spicer's Deli where Doug eventually works as delivery boy during Saturday mornings. It is during these delivery trips that he meets some of the eccentric residents of Marysville, New York. And during Saturday mornings, he takes up the habit of visiting the library where the librarian teaches him how to replicate Audobon's beautiful watercolors of the birds of America.
Audobon's book is the centerpiece of the town's library, but since the town is sometimes in need of cash for some project, it has sold one Audobon plate after another to different individuals. Doug then decides to collect back these plates. So how does Doug do it? Well, his methods become some of the endearing and funny parts of the book.
Okay for Now was nominated for this year's National Book Award, and I was hoping that it would win. (The Wednesday Wars was a Newberry Honor Book, which I felt was well deserved.) Doug's adventures in Okay for Now will often make you teary eyed and whoop for joy at the same time. I had no choice but to root for Doug all the way.
For a novel just under 400 pages, Schmidt has written about the aesthetics of Audobon's watercolors, the appeal of Jane Eyre to readers (the novel was a reading assignment in Doug's class), the horrors of gym class, the effects of war on families, and the causes of juvenile delinquency, among other things. Trust me, dear reader, Okay for Now is a wonderful and meaningful reading experience.
I do hope that Schmidt releases another novel soon. Schmidt's message of hope and redemption in Okay for Now is something that people need. Doug's persistence in learning Audobon's technique is admirable. His triumph in the midst of familial discord is a cause for celebration. His well-earned respect from the people around him is something every child can aspire to. All these make Okay for Now my favorite young adult read this year.
Read this book if:
- You love Audobon's plates.
- You'll read any YA fiction with a very lovable character.
- You know that when things go really, really wrong, they can only get better.