The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Lifestyles

November 7, 2011

Jeana Gockley: Secondary character shines in his own novel

JOPLIN, Mo. — “Okay For Now” by Gary D. Schmidt

4th-8th Grade

Readers of Schmidt’s previous Newbery honor title “The Wednesday Wars” have already met Doug Swieteck, though they may not remember him -- he was a secondary character. In this companion novel Schmidt has placed Doug center stage and boy, does he shine.

It is the summer of 1968 and while Doug is moving from Long Island to upstate New York with his family, Joe Pepitone is slugging home runs for the New York Yankees, the Apollo space mission team is gearing up to undertake the first lunar landing and many men, including Doug’s eldest brother Lucas, are fighting the Vietnam War.   

Marysville, the town Doug and his family move to seems to have little to offer at first glance, but Doug soon discovers the town library, where he becomes memorized by the plates of John James Audubon’s “Birds of America.” He also befriends spunky Lil Spicer and makes several friends while working as a grocery delivery boy on Saturday mornings.   

These outside relationships are important in Doug’s life because his home environment is not a stable one. And even though the narrator never spells it out, readers will quickly deduce that the majority of this instability is because of an abusive and hot-headed father that rarely offers the family a glimmer of the truth.

Despite Doug’s volatile home life he is a survivor and he uses his newfound creativity and friendships to makes the best of his first year in Marysville.

Gary Schmidt has written a clever, engaging novel that will have readers rooting for Doug. Admittedly, readers may not find this title on their own, because of the understated cover. However, it is worth the hard sell to get it in their hands, because once they do start reading, they will not be able to stop.

It is unusual for an author to write a novel that has such broad appeal, from middle school students to high school students and even adults, but Schmidt has outdone himself with this powerful story that shows how hope can shape lives.

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