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Thursday, July 14, 2011

Okay for Now, written by Gary Schmidt. Clarion, Thomas Allen & Son, 2011. $19.99 ages 13 and up

"In English, Miss Cowper was throwing us into the Introduction to Poetry Unit like it was as all-fired important as the moon shot. You know, there are good reasons to learn how to read. Poetry isn't one of them. I mean, so what if two roads go two ways in a wood? So what? Who cares if it made all that big a difference? What difference? And why should I have to guess what the difference is? Isn't that what he's supposed to say?"

If you didn't love Doug Swieteck in The Wednesday Wars, you get another chance in this powerful and engaging follow-up story. Doug has moved to a new town and he is not too thrilled with life in 'stupid Marysville'. As with all change, there is an adjustment period. His family is in turmoil, and the move is made because his father wants a new job; what his father wants is what happens with the family. He is a bitter, angry, mean-spirited man who treats his wife and children with disdain and brutality. Lucas, the oldest son, is in Vietnam. Christopher is on his way to trouble with the law, and being a clone of his father. Doug is the youngest of the three, an eighth grader with a lot of anger and resentment. He hates 'The Dump' they live in, and has no desire to make friends with people at school or in town.

It happens gradually; but, Doug finally finds his place among the townsfolk and within his own family. Gary Schmidt creates a young man to be admired in this superb character study. He made me laugh, grit my teeth and even cry. It is sure to be on the Newbery list this year! There are so many quotes I would love to share with you. He is funny, endearing, agonizing, and loving. You will NEVER forget him.

Doug's voice is strong and sure, while dealing with many of the same issues that plague all eighth graders. He is interested in a girl, angry with authority, searching for self and discovering that he has talents for making friends, art, and being a brother. He is vulnerable when he needs to be, self-assured as he discovers his inner strengths, helpful and dependable for Mr. Spicer and the customers whose groceries he delivers. He is angry about his father and his pitiful parenting, the way his mother is treated by his father; but he is grateful to new friends and supporters.

The entire cast of characters is well-drawn...believable, uplifting, anxious to make Doug feel at home. There are surprises but the action builds to them, and doesn't knock the reader in the head with them. Gary Schmidt is consistent in building character and relationships that matter and work.

He is such a skilled writer. He ensures that his readers are privy to some major historical events...the Vietnam War, the moon landing, the National Physical Fitness tests and standards and even some Yankee history. There are some difficult issues. It certainly will have middle and high school readers wanting to discuss its many compelling scenes.  It is a great readaloud and now has a place on my 'keepers' shelf...right next to Trouble, The Wednesday Wars and Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy. If you are wondering what to read this summer, you cannot go wrong with these powerful reads.

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