Houghton Mifflin Harcourt: Boston, 2011.
author of Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy and Wednesday Wars
Doug Swieteck's family moves to Marysville (upstate NY) in the summer of 1968. Doug starts the story an unhappy and scared kid. He doesn't want to be like his bullying father and older brothers. There doesn't seem to be anything to do in Marysville. He waits on the library steps for it to open only to be told rudely that it is only open Saturdays. But he does receive an offer of a job delivering groceries for a small grocer, which is better than doing nothing.
On his first visit to the Marysville Free Public Library, he goes upstairs to escape the disapproving librarian and discovers the library's treasure, a display case with John James Audubon's book Birds of America, one of the few remaining copies. He meets Mr. Powell, the page-turner for the book and a kindred spirit. Somehow Mr. Powell finds the time to give Doug art lessons on his Saturday visits. Along with the lessons, there is much discussion about the composition of the pictures and art techniques. Not too far along, Doug learns from Mr. Powell that the Town Council has been cutting pages from the book when the town is low on funds.
School is another source of aggravation. Doug mocks the principal at orientation and talks back to the Phys Ed coach (a Vietnam vet and the last person you want to irritate), so he's on Coach Reed and Principal Peattie's hit lists from the beginning. It doesn't help that there is a robbery in town and locals blame Doug's brother. Lil, the grocer's daughter, speaks on Doug's behalf or he would have lost his job, too. It is mostly through school, though, that Doug develops a pattern of sticking up for himself, acting on his own thoughts. It has consequences, and he needs to learn when to hold his tongue, but overall gains him respect.
It is his father's company picnic that is the turning point for Doug's problems. He unknowingly befriends the boss, Mr. Ballard, angering his father in the process. But it is the first unquestionable indication that his father is a big liar, and it is a friendship that continues through the story.
Doug makes a few friends on his delivery route. The playwright's, Mrs. Windermere, home is where Doug sees the first pilfered picture hanging. The principal's office is next. Then, Mr. Ballard's office. Later, he is shown a fourth hanging at a friend's house, a friend who also believes it belongs in the book. Doug instigates the return of the pages to the book. The first one is returned through friendship after Doug makes an impassioned comment. The others Doug has to bargain for.
Okay for Now is a coming of age story balanced with family and school troubles and artistic (drawing and plays) and community endeavors. Doug's new relationships and his achievements are the factors supporting his growth as an individual. Although, some of the friendships are shaky, with teachers and customers, a few are solid and unquestionably supportive (Lil, Mr. Ballard, Mr. Powell, and the science teacher Mr. Ferris). The others grow as the people get to know Doug better, even with more robberies happening and grim circumstances for the brother.
Schmidt is excellent at describing everyday events in an enthralling manner. He also balances many issues well and uses unlikely or unusual happenings in a believable way for an interesting read. The style is not as elegant as his Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy, but still nicely written and entertaining. It is
more along the lines of Wednesday Wars, in which Doug Swieteck is a minor character. Another memoir of a middle school boy, although with greater problems than the other.
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