Teen Book Review: "Okay for Now"
I have bad news for you. School is going to start again in just a few days. But before you start groaning and complaining, the opening to your school year can be nowhere near as bad as the one faced by Doug Swieteck. He starts school saddled with the reputation of being a troublemaker, and he didn’t even do anything!
In Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt, Doug Swieteck’s family is moving from Long Island to upstate New York, but it is not a good move. Like many incidents in his life, it’s coming from his alcoholic (and possibly criminal) father losing his temper and his job. His older brother Christopher is a thug fast emulating his father, while his eldest brother is off fighting in Vietnam.
Tormented by his brothers and unsure what will happen with his father, Doug’s desperate for something good to happen in his life, and when it does, it happens in the most unexpected way. Doug is roped into becoming a Saturday delivery boy for Spicer’s deli (the fact that the cute daughter of the deli owner was the interviewer helped sweeten the deal), which helps him meet the quirky residents of the town and become a part of their lives. He also starts to express his artistic side as he goes to the library every Saturday afternoon and learns to draw. But as Doug himself says, when things start looking up, it’s only a matter of time before things go bad.
This book breaks many conventions of the young adult novel and is very much a literary work. Instead of one caring adult being the rock in a sea of uncaring stereotypes, Doug has his mother, Mr. Powell the librarian, and several good teachers who help him through the crises of his life. And as the book goes on, several other adults become great role models as well. Doug grows and changes as a character as well. Although the description of him as a “skinny thug” by several characters is very accurate at the beginning of the story, he grows to be a better person as he expresses his artistic side and seeks stability in his life. He and his family face some truly grim struggles, both internal and external, but the underlying love they have for each other helps them persevere.
The small town setting of this book is more important than the historical tidbits that establish the story in 1969, and the author uses the historical perspective to poke fun at our recent past and present. “You can’t imagine an actor ever becoming President of the United States, for example.” Doug narrates the story as a monologue to the reader, with a lot of snappy one-liners and rhetorical questions. This style may be off-putting to some younger readers, but will probably appeal to the older crowd. The ending of the book is just like the rest of the story: a lot of good stuff happening, but an underlying tragedy as well to show that life is life. This is definitely a book worth picking up and reading.
Okay For Now is recommend for late tween and early teen readers. Check it out along with other books by Gary Schmidt at Northeast Library and other libraries of the DC Public Library system today!
--by Brandon Digwood