Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Middle-Grade Review: Okay for Now

Okay for Now, an audio book by Gary D. Schmidt, was one of the winners of a 2012 Odyssey Honor Award for audio books.  The award was well deserved.  This was one of the best middle-grade books I have ever read (or listened to) and one of the best audio book productions I have ever listened to.  It was one of those rare books that I couldn’t wait to finish but never wanted to end.

Doug Swieteck has a rough life: his dad is abusive, his brother is a bully, and his oldest brother is off fighting in Vietnam.  To make matters worse, his father loses his job and moves the family from Long Island to “stupid Marysville” (as Doug calls it throughout the book), a small town in the Catskills, where there is nothing going on and Doug knows no one.  Even worse, everyone in town seems to assume that Doug is a thug, like his brother.  The only things that make his life bearable are his kind mother (and especially, her smile) and Lil, who teaches him how to drink a really cold Coke and becomes his first friend in Marysville.

Doug is the most endearingly flawed but likable narrator since Tom Sawyer.  Even though it sometimes feels like the whole world is falling apart around him, Doug keeps moving forward.  He discovers the Marysville Library’s greatest treasure, John James Audubon’s Birds of America, with its amazing paintings, and he becomes the town’s new grocery delivery boy on Saturday mornings.  Little by little, he finds things to like about stupid Marysville and becomes a part of the community, but not without plenty of challenges and struggles.

I loved every minute of this audio book that had me both laughing out loud and choking back tears at various points.  It is funny and heartbreaking and heartwarming, all at once, while it recreates a period of time in small-town America that has long past.  Most of all, it is real.  Doug’s ups and downs mirror those every person encounters in real life – setbacks alternating with moving forward, heart-renching times followed by joys.  Schmidt has created a cast of characters that you really come to care about.  I definitely want to go back and read Schmidt’s Newberry Honor novel, The Wednesday Wars, which introduced Doug for the first time.  Okay for Now is among the best that middle-grade literature has to offer.

Listening Library

Listen to an Excerpt:


Julie said...

Wow! This sounds excellent. I had heard of the book but didn't know much about it. What ages would you say it would be good for? I'm sure it's too much for my son, but I'm considering recommending it to my niece who is in middle school.

Sue Jackson said...

Hmmm...good question, Julie. I meant to mention age-appropriateness.

The publisher recommends ages 10 and up, and I think that is about right. Despite its good sense of humor, it does deal with some heavy issues that might be too much for a younger kid, including cancer and serious war injuries.

Hope that helps.


Adriana @ BooksOnHerMind said...

So you did your review! You mentioned on my blog how you read the audio version and loved it. Doug is the best isn't he? But he isn't flawed! He can do no wrong in my eyes!

Julie said...

This one sounds absolutely wonderful! Thanks for the review!