Okay For Now by Gary D. Schmidt tells the unforgettable story of an adolescent boy, Doug Swieteck, who grows up in the small town of Middletown. In the beginning of the novel, it is obvious that Doug doesn’t have a lot of reasons to be happy. Things on the home front are very dysfunctional. His father is abusive, his brother is an extreme trouble maker, his brother is off in Vietnam fighting a raging war and even though his mother has a smile that “Hollywood actresses would kill for” (Schmidt 2011, 23) she is not able to provide for her son in the emotional way that he so desperately needs. Everything changes, however, the day that Doug finds refuge in his new friend, Lil, and his new hobby, painting birds. As Doug struggles to overcome numerous barriers, he discovers more about himself, his creativity, and the world around him. Readers will root for Doug’s success throughout the book and will be wholly satisfied in the end when he triumphs on many different levels.
Okay for Now fits very appropriately in the historical fiction genre. The events happening in 1968 that are portrayed in the novel are Joe Pepitone slugging for the Yankees, NASA making efforts to put a man on the moon, and the Vietnam War in full swing. The event at the forefront is, of course, the Vietnam War. Author Gary D. Schmidt, does an excellent job of portraying what a disastrous effect the war had on men, women, and their families through the characters he develops and the events he portrays. Throughout the novel, Doug experiences conflict with Coach Reed, his gym teacher, who he believes to be a very cruel man. One day Doug discovers several sketches of Vietnam, depicting dead bodies and the words “My Lai” (or I was there) at the bottom of the page. That day, Doug was able to put all of Coach Reed’s so-called cruel actions into perspective, and their relationship changed for the better. Another unforgettable scene with historical context is when Doug and his family go to pick up his brother, Lucas, who is returning from the Vietnam War. Much to their dismay, the family finds a very broken man, one with no legs, a huge bandage over his face, and spirit that has been depleted. Later in the novel, the hardships that Lucas faces in getting a job and starting the healing process because of his physical and emotional disabilities are highlighted in great detail.
One of the many standout elements in Okay For Now is the unforgettable protagonist, Doug Swieteck. Doug struggles on so many levels – emotionally, physically, and psychologically – with the events that are happening around him – an abusive father, an accused criminal brother, another brother fighting in Vietnam, and a gym teacher who won’t ever get off his case, to name a few. Through it all, Doug resiliently pushes through all of the hardships and grounds himself in his passions (art, Joe Pepitone, and playing with the neighborhood children) and in the arms of reliable people (Lil, his best friend, and Mr. Powell, his art teacher). Readers will go on an emotional journey with Doug as he grows up in a just few short months, and comes to several realizations about himself and those surrounding him. As the Voice of Youth Advocates eloquently states, “while there is much stacked against him, he is a character filled with hope that the reader cannot help but root for.”
Additionally, Doug has a very endearing way of communicating with the readers which often involves him using a very direct, sarcastic tone. In moments of extreme emotion, good or bad, he often asks readers, “You know what that feels like?” and in moments of frustrations he mutters, “so what, so what?” The tone in Doug’s voice set by Schmidt contributes to the portrayal of a real, human character, one that many adolescents will quickly relate to.
Besides the characters, adolescents will also relate well to other literary aspects of the novel. Children growing up in a small town will likely understand the often negative emotions associated with living behind the shadow of rumors spread about a family member or friend. Regardless of whether this rumor is true, word can travel fast in little time, though the aftershocks of those words often take time to dissipate. Although the Vietnam War is fifty years behind us, many current adolescents have family members or friends who have served or are currently serving in Afghanistan or Iraq. This will allow adolescents feeling any sadness or frustration related to having a family member in a warzone relate well to this book and possibly even help process some of their own emotions.
When times are tough, they are very tough for Doug. Although the abuse scenes in this novel are never fully explored in detail, the plot is one that is likely best suited for an older, more mature adolescent audience. This is something to keep in mind when scheduling library programming that involves this book. Having pre-planned, appropriate discussion questions would be essential. (Examples of these questions can be found at http://www.scribd.com/doc/112180819 /Okay-For-Now-Educator-Guide.)
Okay For Now doesn’t speak in depth about the historical aspects of the Vietnam War, but reading this book could easily serve as a springboard to introduce such topics. Books such as “10,000 Day of Thunder” by Philip Caputo or “Vietnam War” by Martin Gitlin would be great additions to posters or displays in the library that focus on the Vietnam War. The Moving Wall, a “half-size replica of the Washington, DC Vietnam Veterans Memorial” travels around the country and was recently in Cleveland, TX the week of October 10th. Either visiting this memorial or taking pictures and sharing information about it would be a great way to get young library patrons inspired to learn more. Additionally, a virtual tour of the Vietnam War Memorial is available at http://www.virtualwall.org/ and a slideshow of Vietnam photos is available at http://www.themovingwall.org/thewall.html. These would be great resources to show to young learners.
Okay for Now has been nominated for a 2011 National Book Award, a 2013 Grand Canyon Reader Award, a 2012 Wyoming National Paintbrush Book Award, a 2012 Black-Eyed Susan Book Award, a 2013 Beehive Young Adults’ Book Award, and a 2013 Volunteer State Book Award. In 2011, it won a School Library Journal Best Books of the Year Award and in 2012, it won an American Library Association Notable Book for Children Award.
Books in Print. Texas Woman’s University Accessed November 7, 2013.
Crochett, Joyce. n.d. “YouTube Video of the Song ‘The Wall.’”Accessed November 8, 2013. http://www.themovingwall.org/thewall.html
Schmidt, Gary D. 2011. Okay for Now. New York: Clarion Books. ISBN 0547152604
Scribd. n.d. “Okay For Now Educators Guide.” Accessed November 7, 2013. http://www.scribd.com/doc/112180819/Okay-For-Now-Educator-Guide
Vietnam Combat Veterans. 2013. “The Moving Wall.” Accessed November 8, 2013. http://www.themovingwall.org/
The Virtual Wall. 1997-2013. “The Virtual Wall: Vietnam Veterans Memorial Accessed November 8, 2013. http://www.themovingwall.org/thewall.html