Okay for Now
by Gary D. Schmidt
Earlier in the month I wrote about Holling Hoodhood in The Wednesday Wars. With Okay for Now Schmidt has written a sequel of sorts. The novel begins in the summer of '68 when Apollo missions and the Vietnam War dominate the news. Holling's classmate Doug Swieteck is moving with his family to upstate New York. His father has lost his job at Culross Lumber and has taken a new one at Ballard Paper Mill in Marysville, where his old pal Ernie Eco works.
Doug's father, who is angry, resentful, and abusive, spends all his time after work drinking and carousing with Ernie. Doug himself needs to get out, so he takes a job delivering groceries at Spicer's Deli, but not long after he starts working there the store is robbed and all fingers point to Doug's brother Christopher. By association, everyone treats Doug as if he were guilty. To complicate matters, Doug's oldest brother Lucas comes home wounded from Vietnam. Doug refers to his new house as "the dump." Indeed the house isn't much of a home; it isn't big enough to hold all the emotions and contentions of its occupants, who are less like a family and more like hostages in a cage.
There are a few bright spots in Doug's life: his mother at home, Lil Spicer at the deli, and librarian Mr. Powell at the Marysville Public Library where Doug discovers Audubon's birds. Mr. Powell teaches the artistically gifted Doug how to draw the birds, and Doug discovers the healing power of art: "sometimes art can make you forget everything else all around you. That's what art can do."
As an homage to Jane Eyre, the novel Doug must read for English class, Doug, the narrator of Okay for Now, directly addresses his readers, occasionally asking them questions: "You remember who is sitting in the audience?" "You remember the Snowy Heron, right?" "And I know you think you know why I don't want to read Jane Eyre, but it's not really any of your business, is it?"
Okay for Now is a story of hurt and loss, of coping and creating, of healing and thriving and, and finally of redemption and love.