Title: Okay for Now
Author: Gary Schmidt
Enjoyment Rating: ****
Content Alert: Some mild language
I finished reading this book a few days ago and passed it along to my fifth-grade daughter. Last night she came into my room with the book in her hands and told me where she was in the story and asked me, “Mom, when is this going to get good?” That’s been the struggle with Gary Schmidt books in our house. I like them a lot, but my kids, not so much. Annie read about 40 pages of Lizzie Bright and most of Wednesday Wars, but ultimately finished neither of them. I know she’s probably younger than Schmidt’s target audience (although a third of her class read Wednesday Wars as an assigned book in fourth grade), but as I thought back to my reading of Okay for Now, I thought of a few reasons why she might struggle with his novels.
First, he’s great at stained-glass prose. He writes pretty– whenever I read his books I’m always struck with how much prettier is writing is than mine. It’s not especially dense, but it does require a little bit of careful reading to get things. For example, in Okay for Now, Doug Swieteck (who you may remember as a minor character in Wednesday Wars) never really comes out and says the things he’s struggling with. He wants to draw, but talks around it. He likes a girl, and never says it. (Spoiler Alert) He can’t read, but never articulates that explicitly. Instead, he gives clues that lead an adult reader to put things together and figure out that the kid can’t read, but I don’t know that an average YA reader, without a teacher asking the right questions to help them come to those conclusions, would see it. I get why Schmidt does it– eighth grade boys aren’t known for being especially forthcoming, but I don’t think it makes for easy reading.
Second, in both Wednesday Wars and Okay for Now, Schmidt doesn’t assign names to major characters in the story. For example, we don’t know that Holling Hoodhood’s sister’s name is Heather until the end of the book. In Okay for Now, there are at least two characters whose names Schmidt/Doug keeps under wraps for a lot of the story, and it doesn’t always make a lot of sense why Doug won’t call his brother by his name, at least until he starts liking him later in the story.
Third, not that much happens. I mean, there are day to day events that over the course of a year make for an interesting story arc, but for my kids, who are accustomed to reading about the witches and wizards of Harry Potter and gross out jokes of Diary of a Wimpy Kid and the nonstop action of the Percy Jackson books, drawing birds and delivering groceries don’t seem all that interesting. As an adult I’m patient enough to see things play out, but I don’t know if kids are. Maybe I just have overly stimulated kids.
Finally, one of the things I liked best about Okay for Now was the way that Doug and Lil became friends over the course of the year. About 80% of the way through the book, something unexpected happens to one of the characters (which won’t be unexpected now that I’ve told you). I felt like such a big, such an unexpected, such an unforeshadowed event felt out of place in the larger narrative. The book didn’t need that to happen to be a good book and I’m not sure how it fit in the overall story arc. I know, life doesn’t happen according to a story arc (is that one of Schmidt’s points in his writing?) but it felt out of place to me.
I know that this review makes it sound like I didn’t like Okay for Now. That’s not true at all– I liked it a lot. I’m just curious about why it and Schmidt’s other books have played better to the mom than to the kids in his target audience.