Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Reading Through History: Okay For Now by Gary D. Schmidt (2011)

Doug Swieteck has recently moved to Marysville, New York, with one of his brothers (the other, Lucas, is serving in Vietnam), his mother, whom he loves, and his abusive dad. Desperate to be out of the house and dissociated from his brother's criminal behavior, Doug starts visiting the public library, where John Audubon's drawings of birds are on display, one at a time, inside a glass case. The librarian, Mr. Powell, notices that Doug has an interest in and aptitude for drawing and helps him slowly learn to draw each of the birds. Doug enjoys these drawing sessions, and also sees stories and messages in the paintings that are dictated and sometimes even changed by happenings in his own life.
Throughout these first months in Marysville, Doug also gets a job as a delivery boy, which gives him the chance to meet many different people in the community, including an eccentric author, and he learns to read, after a teacher discovers that he secretly can't. He also meets Lil, who proves to be a friend as well as a bit of a know-it-all, and he does his best to hide the jacket he received from baseball player Joe Pepitone, so that his brother or father doesn't steal it away from him.

This book contains some of the most beautiful writing I have ever had the pleasure of reading. There's some grim stuff, too, mostly having to do with Doug's father's abusive behaviors, but even those haunting passages are written to a higher standard. I think the only things that prevent this book from acheiving true greatness are the plot points near the end of the book. Doug's brother returns from Vietnam, a major illness befalls someone important to Doug, and suddenly his father seems to clean up his act in a very contrived and completely unbelievable way. I thought these moments cheapened the story quite a bit, and condescended to the readers in a way that isn't necessary in a sophisticated book like this.

Read-alikes for this story include Tales of the Madman Underground, which is all about trying to survive a world where adults continually screw up, The Catcher in the Rye, whose Holden has a tone of sarcasm just like Doug's, and The Rules of Survival by Nancy Werlin, which also focuses on escape from an abusive parent. Don't miss this book. Its brilliance far outweighs even its most glaring flaws.

No comments:

Post a Comment