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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

Okay For Now: The Gloves Come Off!

Betsy has her latest round of Newbery/Caldecott predictions up and, not surprisingly, OKAY FOR NOW is at the very top of the list.  Betsy praises the book for its “heart” and its ability to get readers “emotionally involved,” both wonderful  intangibles for a book to have, but qualities that we need to translate into the Newbery criteria for the purposes of our discussion here.  There’s definitely lots of love for this book, but I worry that such adoration clouds our judgment and blinds us to potential faults in the book.

Hopefully, you all caught K.T. Horning’s insightful piece, “Secrecy and the Newbery Medal,” in the July/August issue of the Horn Book.  This past summer, K.T. also posted her initial reaction to OKAY FOR NOW on the adbooks listserv where her comments generated quite a vigorous discussion, a discussion I hope to replicate here.

I just finished Gary D. Schmidt’s new book, “Okay for Now,” which has
been getting great reviews, mostly starred. I was prepared to agree with
them, even though there were several things I had to chalk up to poetic
license, such as the idea of a library cutting individual plates from a
John James Audubon book to sell whenever they needed money. (If they
were that hard up and didn’t really care about the book, why not just
sell the whole thing intact to a collector or a museum for much more money?)

I really liked the main character, Doug, and came to appreciate — even
look forward to — his weekly routine of going to school, delivering
groceries on Saturdays, and going to the library to practice drawing
birds. I appreciated the way Schmidt developed the character as a
budding artist, and all of the adults in his town who supported him in
different ways. I loved the voice, and the way the protagonist addressed
the audience directly, a la “Our Town.”

But then we get to those last 50 pages.

*
*
*

****SPOILER ALERT for anyone who hasn’t read it yet and intends to.

*
*
*
First of all, I found it really hard to believe that Doug would be able
to track down all the missing Audubon plates so easily, and that they
were all, except for one, right in his hometown. But I wanted to believe
it, for Doug’s sake, so I did. I gave the author that.

But then we got to the part where Lil and Doug just happened to be in
the right place at the right time to get cast in a Broadway play.
Really? REALLY?! First of all, it’s hard to believe that in 1968
Broadway was so hard-up for talent that they couldn’t find anyone to
play Helen Burns, a role young Elizabeth Taylor had played in the 1944
movie version. I’m not even going to get into the issue of the Actors’
Equity Association, or how Lil and Doug got to and from rehearsals in
New York City, or the fact that Doug’s off-stage shrieking as Bertha
Mason would likely have been taped instead of being performed by a live
actor every night. (And what ever happened to that any way — Lil
dropped out due to terminal illness, but why didn’t Doug stick with it?
He would have been paid a lot more than the $5 a week he was earning as
a delivery boy.)

The whole bit with Lil getting sick on opening night and Doug serving as
her stand-in because he was the only one who “knew all her lines”
–really? I might have bought that if it were a school production, maybe
even community theater, but Broadway? And I kept wondering, what boy in
1968 had enough hair to pull back into a pony tail?

Can we talk about the absurdity of Joe Pepitone going to a stage
production of “Jane Eyre” on opening night? That makes me chuckle every
time I think of it, but then I’m old enough to remember Joe “I didn’t
know cocaine was illegal” Pepitone. I actually read his autobiography
when I was a kid, and he doesn’t strike me as the type who’d go to Jane
Eyre on Broadway, especially not during baseball season. It’s also not
too hard to figure out that the last Friday in May, opening night for
Jane Eyre according to Schmidt, Pepitone was in Detroit, playing center
field for the Yankees against the Tigers. He might as well have stayed
in NYC that night since he had no hits and one strike out in his four at
bats that night. The stats are right there and, in this case, they don’t
lie.

I also didn’t buy the idea of the junior high gym teacher being able to
make an on-the-spot hire on behalf of the school. If it had been the
principal, maybe. But the gym teacher? In all honesty, this move
surprised me, even more than Lucas’s ability to get his heavy wheel
chair up the six steps to the library entrance, by himself, by pulling
and leaning. (Would this even be physically possible for a legless
weight lifter? And it it’s so easy for an ordinary guy in a wheelchair,
why don’t more people in wheelchairs use this technique all the time?)
In any case, I had been fully expecting the heart-of-gold factory owner
to hire Lucas for some sort of administrative job at which he would make
twice as much as his father.

And while we’re on the subject of golden hearts, why the mass sudden
changes of heart on behalf of the entire cast of tough-guy characters
(except for Ernie Eco who was apparently irredeemable)? The principal,
all the mean teachers, the two brothers, and Doug’s abusive father –
all suddenly turned into caring human beings at the end of the book. And
why didn’t we get the satisfaction of seeing Ernie Eco brought to
justice? I would have preferred that to the sentimental ending that was
straight out of Love Story.

I would like to hear from the book’s champions. I liked the book better
than it sounds like I do, which is probably why I am so irritated by the
last 50 pages. And perplexed by all the glowing reviews. Did everyone
else read a different book?

Now I’ll admit that when I read OKAY FOR NOW, I was so engaged by the story that Schmidt had managed to turn off my critical thinking faculties, and I completely missed many of these concerns, but now that K.T. has raised them I can clearly see them.  Can you make arguments against each of these specific points?  Yes, and people have been arguing about the Broadway issue in the comments to Nina’s previous post.  For me, however, it’s not any one point that is particularly damning, but rather the entire collection of them.  There’s too many holes in the dike, and we don’t have enough fingers to plug them all.

What I did vaguely sense, however, was that something was off with the ending, but I couldn’t really articulate it very well until I remembered these comments from Kenneth Oppel on the challenges of writing a sequel (which come from a previous Horn Book article I wrote, “Epic Fantasy Meets Sequel Prejudice”).

Many people think writing a sequel is easier than writing an original stand-alone work.  A sequel is certainly easier in some ways — you’ve got your world, your characters established — but it’s also much harder. You’ve lost forever that freshness, that delight of a new world and meeting new people. You’ve also got to up the ante and make sure it, in some way, surpasses the original. In an adventure story, you’ve got to make sure it’s more exciting, more daring, more audacious, more inventive. At its worst (as in Hollywood movies) this usually takes the form of bigger explosions, more villains, bigger car chases — which, ironically, doesn’t make anything better, only more tedious. The key, I think, is a combination of inventive story and putting the character in situations that test him or her in new and different ways.

While OKAY FOR NOW is more accurately described as a companion novel rather than a sequel, I think it functions the same because of the very strong similarities between this book and its predecessor, THE WEDNESDAY WARS: similar setting, similar voice, similar characters.  I wonder if Schmidt didn’t feel the need to up the ante by throwing in everything but the kitchen sink at the end–not necessarily for the reader, but for himself as a writer.  Wouldn’t he tire of simply writing a retread of THE WEDNESDAY WARS?  Now, fortunately, OKAY FOR NOW is not competing with THE WEDNESDAY WARS, but rather other books published in 2011.  Then, too, my misguided psychoanalysis of Schmidt doesn’t really factor into the Newbery conversation either.  I would divest myself of all that baggage on a second reading.  Like K.T., I actually like the book better than it sounds like I do.  But somebody has to be the voice of reason, and stem the tide of unmitigated author worship, right?

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Jonathan Hunt About Jonathan Hunt

Jonathan Hunt is the County Schools Librarian at the San Diego County Office of Education. He served on the 2006 Newbery committee, and has also judged the Printz Award, the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. You can reach him at hunt_yellow@yahoo.com

Comments

  1. Elizabeth Bird says:

    Good! I was waiting for this to come up and the sooner the better. The words I keep hearing over and over again with this book are “yeah, I had problems with the ending but I loved the book so much that I can overlook them.” So the question really becomes, when push comes to shove in the committee room, will they also bypass these issues in favor of wuv, or will these be the elements that shoot it down at the last minute?

    Jonathan I’m just waiting for your Jefferson’s Sons assessment too. Baited breath, over here.

  2. I enjoyed the book, but if it wins the Newbery I’ll feel disappointed. I feel like there’s got to be a book out there that rivals it for heart and humor, or excels in other ways, but also approaches seamlessness. My eyebrows rose at several of the things KT mentions, but she found even more quibbles (and I laughed aloud over her commentary about Joe Pepitone’s lousy game the night Jane Eyre opened).

    I took an additional issue with it, which again probably would have been okay if it were the only problem. But stretching my credulity was the librarian’s expertise at teaching Doug how to draw. If he’s such a great art instructor, why the heck isn’t he teaching art instead of hanging out at the library? I love my colleagues, but most of us can’t draw worth beans. And those of us who can don’t have the time to hold art class during working hours!

  3. Erica Perl says:

    “Many people think writing a sequel is easier than writing an original stand-alone work. A sequel is certainly easier in some ways — you’ve got your world, your characters established — but it’s also much harder. You’ve lost forever that freshness, that delight of a new world and meeting new people. You’ve also got to up the ante and make sure it, in some way, surpasses the original. In an adventure story, you’ve got to make sure it’s more exciting, more daring, more audacious, more inventive. At its worst (as in Hollywood movies) this usually takes the form of bigger explosions, more villains, bigger car chases — which, ironically, doesn’t make anything better, only more tedious. The key, I think, is a combination of inventive story and putting the character in situations that test him or her in new and different ways.”

    Yes! Exactly! (can you tell I’m working on sequel now and struggling with exactly this issue?). Thanks to K.O. for articulating it so well, and kudos to you for remembering his words and applying them here. Though to be fair, I have held off reading OK For Now, so I can’t take sides.

  4. So…it isn’t that I disagree with any of the well articulated points. A lot of this stuff is implausible. But what felt key to me, as a reader, is that while I was reading, it totally seemed legit. Perhaps the actual performing on Broadway business wouldn’t have happened “in real life.” I’m sure there’s no chance Joe Pepitone would have been there. But Doug’s reactions to everything he went through rang so completely true to me as a reader that I just wasn’t thinking about it at the time.

  5. Eric Carpenter says:

    I read Okay for Now three time back in the winter but haven’t reread it lately because my to-be-read pile is simply to large. I have a lot of thoughts on the concerns raised but want to reread the book before commenting on anything specific. So I’m excited to read Okay for Now for a fourth time this weekend with these areas of concern in mind. I also plan on thinking about whether it is accurate or helpful to consider it a piece realistic fiction, which I believe from reading this site most readers seem to be doing. Is there a textual reason why we are engaging in Okay for Now as if it must act like a work of realistic fiction?

    I will say that the only concerns I had with Okay for Now when I first read it were its connections with Wednesday Wars. Reading the books back to back (which I recommend) I began to lose faith in Mrs. Baker (the teacher from WW). Were Doug’s coping mechanisms, which he used to hide his illiteracy, so fine tuned that what I previously thought of as a fantastic teacher was in reality, letting a student slip through the same cracks he’d been falling through all his life? Second and more mundane question about the camping trip near the end of WW, how does Doug manage to not reveal his tattoo when everyone goes swimming?

  6. I read this book because of the rave reviews and loathed it for the reasons above, and more. I didn’t believe a word of it. There, I said it. This can’t possibly be the best that children’s literature has to offer.

    Sorry.

  7. April says:

    I hate the idea that a book can’t have any flaws to win the Newbery. In the rush to quantify a book as “Newbery material” people obsess over flaws and forget to weigh them against a book’s strengths. Personally I’d rather have a book aim high and stumble then play it safe and aim for the middle. Just because a book has no objective flaws doesn’t mean it’s the best book of the year.

  8. Georgia says:

    I hated The Wednesday Wars and couldn’t believe all the attention it garnered. Unlike Okay for Now (which I liked quite a bit, but agree had many flaws), its plot points were implausible from beginning to end, instead of just at the end.

  9. Nina Lindsay says:

    A book does not have to be flawless to win the Newbery. It only has to be more distinguished than any other.

    In the Newbery discussion for OKAY, we can’t compare it to WEDNESDAY WARS. But I think looking at the two side by side for now, early on, might help frame the thinking about this. I’m, personally, not the best reader for the WEDNESDAY WARS or OKAY FOR NOW. The coincidences are just too much for me, but I do dearly enjoy the ride, and recognize that for many readers in the target audience, the hyper-realism suits perfectly.

    But…In terms of being a distinguished book, I think WEDNESDAY WARS makes a much better case, because the Shakespearean theme that serves as a strong framing device supports the melodrama, the high-jinx, perfectly. That frame isn’t present in OKAY, unless the reader has brought it with them, from 2007.

    I’m waiting to rereading OKAY when I’ve got a top five in mind to measure it against. For now, I’m having a hard time isolating it, and so am just trying to think over everything I think is strong about it, and everything that still itches at me….

  10. I agree with James. Schmidt’s writing in Wednesday and Okay is just not that compelling or exciting. Both seem like the author’s attempt to rewrite his own childhood into something more interesting than it was.

    As far as I can tell, Schmidt seems to be a stand-out for writing some of the best children’s books there are on being middle class in the 1960s and early 70s. But let’s be frank–it’s going to take something more than unrealistic reimaginings to make the Vietnam era compelling to most elementary and middle schoolers.

    Or am I being unfair?

  11. Genevieve says:

    Eric, I agree you with about Mrs. Baker, as that had bothered me too. I think the tattoo was after the camping trip — if I remember right, it happened around the beginning of summer.

    Sarah speaks for me as well — when I read it, it felt plausible, and even right, that Joe Pepitone would be there, closing the circle (since Doug had begun the book longing to meet him again so he could get another cap to replace the one his brother stole, and Doug talks throughout the early part of the book about how it would be to hang around this new town with Joe Pepitone). I think I simply had a willing suspension of disbelief of coincidences, because of the strength of the story characters and the way the plot was woven together.

  12. KT Horning says:

    I totally agree with April here about flawed books often being more interesting and more deserving of attention. Also, as she says, we often focus on the flaws in these kinds of discussions rather than the strengths. And as the OCP (Original Cranky Person), I would LOVE to read some posts from those who would champion “Okay for Now” saying more than “I loved it.” or “It worked for me.” or “It was so moving.” Please tell me about the book’s strengths. I didn’t have the same emotional response to it, and it obviously didn’t work for me plot-wise. So what can you say to help me understand why it is distinguished? I’m not playing devil’s advocate — I REALLY want to know!

  13. Mr. H says:

    “But stretching my credulity was the librarian’s expertise at teaching Doug how to draw. If he’s such a great art instructor, why the heck isn’t he teaching art instead of hanging out at the library?”

    Come on . . . we’re getting a wee bit picky aren’t we? I mean, my dad taught me how to throw a mean curve ball, but he wasn’t a major league baseball player!

  14. Mr. H says:

    OKAY FOR NOW’s biggest strength was it’s voice.

    One example: There’s a scene where Doug’s brother tears up a drawing Doug has been working on. Doug’s been trying to master the art of making the bird’s foot appear underwater. When he’s destroying his work Doug’s brother says something to the effect of, “You can’t even draw it right, it looks like it’s underwater.” The whole scene plays out in a heated fashion and it’s not until the next page that Doug reveals that he was smiling the entire time. He tells the reader, “If you were paying attention back there, you’d know why.”

    To me, that’s just awesome, brilliant writing!

    There’s more. But I have to dig.

  15. I agree that the most distinguished part of OFN is the voice, or, to put it another way, the characterization of Doug. That really seems to be Schmidt’s strength, creating characters that rise above the circumstances they find themselves in. Like many other commenters, I was so carried away by Doug’s narrative voice that the many coincidences and improbabilities seemed, if not plausible, at least acceptable, even right. Here’s a kid who’s no good at anything, and suddenly, when he makes decisions to improve his lot, he’s good at everything! Yet his down-to-earth presence ensures that he’s still just an average kid with more problems to contend with. I agree with Nina that there’s no overarching narrative structure to carry the weight of this coincidence/improbability-laden plot, unless maybe you count Broadway? But that doesn’t seem a large enough part of the plot to be a central structure.

  16. Alys says:

    I’m seeing a lot of people saying “I was so caught up in the emotional aspect of the book that I was willing to overlook the crazy coincidences of the plot.” I had the opposite reaction: I was completely caught up in the emotion of the book, feeling that everything was so realistic, so true-to-life and amazing…and then these little things kept popping up and popping up, until we see Joe Pepitone at the Broadway performance and he remembers Doug perfectly…and at that point I suddenly thought “Is *any* of this real? Is Doug just making it all up in a bid for attention?” When I started doubting the validity of the events it made me doubt the validity of everything else in the book.

  17. Eric Carpenter says:

    Some of my favorite books require a considerable suspension of disbelief of coincidence. I wonder if the champions of From the Mixed Up Files… had to argue that it doesn’t matter if two kids could really successfully hide in the MET for as long as they did. Or maybe they argued that there were actually more security guards or whatever.

  18. Mark Flowers says:

    To get to the Newbery criteria:

    “a. Committee members need to consider the following:

    Interpretation of the theme or concept
    Presentation of information including accuracy, clarity, and organization
    Development of a plot
    Delineation of characters
    Delineation of a setting
    Appropriateness of style.

    Note: Because the literary qualities to be considered will vary depending on content, the committee need not expect to find excellence in each of the named elements. The book should, however, have distinguished qualities in all of the elements pertinent to it”

    So, here’s a thought: obviously “development of a plot” is “pertinent” to OFN, but perhaps it isn’t the most important of these aspects. Could we argue that it’s delineatin of character, delineation of setting, appropriateness of style, and interpretation of theme are are “excellent” and that therefore the “development of a plot” need only contain “distinguished qualities”? I don’t think there’s any doubt the plot has aspects that are “distinguised” especially at the beginning.

    So then the question becomes, is OFN’s excellence in those other criteria *more* excellent than other books?

    Just some thoughts. I loved the book when I read it, but I can’t remember it well enough to defend fully, and I certainly agree with KT’s general line of argument against the plot – the baseball dates are especially unforgiveable for me ;)

  19. “Come on . . . we’re getting a wee bit picky aren’t we? I mean, my dad taught me how to throw a mean curve ball, but he wasn’t a major league baseball player!”

    Of course it’s picky — but as I said, that was but one of many coincidences/implausibilities (secretly artist boy just happens to meet up with dynamite art teacher masquerading as librarian) that jerked me out of the fictive dream; rather than it feeling natural, I felt manipulated. Obviously, not every reader feels this way. But that doesn’t change my reading experience or make it less valid than anyone else’s.

  20. “Some of my favorite books require a considerable suspension of disbelief of coincidence. I wonder if the champions of From the Mixed Up Files… had to argue that it doesn’t matter if two kids could really successfully hide in the MET for as long as they did.”

    I love From the Mixed-Up Files, and I have no trouble with suspension of disbelief. The characters were well-drawn and consistent. The adventure was extraordinary but each plot point followed logically from what came before. No sudden 180s in character. No “where on earth did that come from” moments in plot. Within the world of the book, everything made sense; that’s what matters. And I simply didn’t feel that way about Okay for Now.

  21. Brandy says:

    I agree with the others that have stated the greatest strengths of the book are Doug’s character and his voice. The quote Mr. H. used up there is a prime example. I don’t have my book handy right now to find others but the novel is full of little gems like that. I was able to overlook the coincidences in the plot for this when I read the book because this is where my bias kicks in. I read for character and voice. It is what is essential to my enjoyment of a novel. The Broadway plot line made me the most uncomfortable, but I was able to push past it. I do see that for someone to whom plot is a bigger factor in reading this book would fall far short of excellent. I think Mark Flowers brought up an excellent point about the criteria and how it will be interpreted regarding OFN. While I have a great deal of love for this book and it is my personal favorite of the ones I have read, I admit I will find it easier to defend some of the other contenders.

  22. Mr. H says:

    Clarification question: Does this novel start in the year 1968? Because if that’s the case, then the last Friday of May would actually be in 1969 wouldn’t it? Or does the book span two years? I forget.

    If that is the case, KT’s argument about Pepitone being at a musical still stands although for slightly different reasons. He was not in Detroit, he was in Kansas City. And he did not go hitless, he went 2 for 3.

    Now, had Schmidt said the FIRST Friday of May, the Yankees would have been at home, playing the Orioles, and Pepitone did not suit. Also . . .

    . . . I’m pretty sure Jane Eyre was NOT playing on Broadway either at that time. So how do you want to weigh that? Seriously, how much are we going to nitpick some of this stuff? It’s realistic fiction. People were able to forgive the questionable name choices of characters and the San Francisco geographical error in ONE CRAZY SUMMER last year but this stuff, we can’t get over?

  23. Mr. H says:

    Another example of “voice” that I loved:

    In one scene Doug is called to Principal Pettie’s office and they talk about the gym teacher’s attitude toward Doug. Doug ends this scene by narrating something like “he said something else that I don’t think I want to tell you.”

    We the reader know it must be bad. We read on. The chapter continues. Pages go by. Reference is made to what the principal said occasionally too. Doug will say something like “I was still thinking about what the principal said . . .” Then, in the smack dab middle of that emotional sucker punch when Lucas is returning home and the Vietnam protesters are ruining the family’s moment . . . we get this line of text:

    “You know what that feels like? (Doug narrating) It feels like having Principal Pettie tell you that not a single teacher in the whole school gives a rip about you – not a rip – because they all gave up on you a long time ago, like on the day you started. That’s what it feels like.”

    I’m sorry, but when I read that line, in the midst of that emotional scene, I knew right then and there that I was reading something special and searching for errors in plot development were the least of my concern. That’s distinguished delineation of character if I’ve ever read it.

  24. Genevieve says:

    It starts in 1968, becasue it happens right after The Wednesday Wars. The school year in The Wednesday Wars includes the assassinations of RFK and MLK.
    So the school year in Okay for Now is 1968-69.

  25. Laura says:

    I had a lot of the same problems as KT did, especially the idea that these two random kids would be hired and that Doug would be the only one who could fill in when Lil got sick. I had no idea that Joe Pepitone wasn’t a theatre-going type or that the story required him to be there on a game night, which is even more disappointing.

    One detail that won Schmidt a lot of points with me, though, was about Copland’s flute piece. Doug’s friend’s father (I can’t remember either of their names) talks about how Copland has never written a piece for the flute. One member of my Mock Newbery book group, a former music major, was distracted by that because Copland *does* have a piece for the flute. We looked it up and the piece she knew came out in 1971… after the events of the book. Nicely done, Gary Schmidt.

  26. Mark Flowers says:

    Alys said: “at that point I suddenly thought “Is *any* of this real? Is Doug just making it all up in a bid for attention?””

    Again, I haven’t read it in a while – I swear I’ll go and reread it – but has anyone considered whether some of these things *could* be made up by Doug? We know he’s an unreliable narrator right? How unreliable could he be? I’m not making an argument yet, just thinking.

  27. Robin G. says:

    I did love Okay for Now. Still do. Doesn’t mean that I don’t also see some of the problems that others have brought up. Just means I have to articulate better what I like so much about this book. I wasn’t immediately hooked from the beginning. It took me a little while to appreciate and trust Doug’s voice. When Nina wrote in yesterday’s post, “Schmidt once again does that magical thing of hiding an understory behind his unreliable narrator, making Doug so real that the reader knows when he’s lying to himself.” I thought this expressed my feelings about Doug perfectly. Whatever else happens in the book, Doug seems real to me. Like I would recognize him if he walked into the library. And this book is driven by character. Early on the idea that someone would actually be named Holling Hoodhood seemed pretty unreal. (I cringe to admit this, but I haven’t read Wednesday Wars. Yet. But that gives me an advantage in the whole sequel problem – Okay for Now, for me, stands alone just fine.) And then . ..

    Definite spoilers here
    The idea that a father would actually drag a child to a tattoo parlor and have him forcibly tattoed and that any establishment would do this also seemed a bit far-fetched. If nothing else, wasn’t this a waste of money? Of which there was little? Definitely child abuse.
    The father’s “redemption” at the end doesn’t bother me. It’s not clear at all to me that he is redeemed. He did finally dump Ernie Eco (for now) so that his innocent son doesn’t go to jail. But that’s hardly a total transformation of character. It’s decent for once. I don’t see the dad suddenly becoming helpful around the house, or even really spending time with his sons, going fishing, anything like that. Things are okay, for now.
    Now the Broadway part. The old lady was apparently an esteemed, sought after playwright. If she was that important and wanted these children cast, I could see they could be cast. I was willing to let it go at that. Joe Pepitone in the audience – that I cede to KT. Perhaps an evening with a lady-friend might have been able to induce Pepitone to the theater, but yes, in May, I’d think he’d be on the baseball field.
    What I liked most about this book is something I haven’t heard discussed all that much. I love how Audubon’s birds are interwoven into the story, with each chapter opening with a plate and the name serving as the chapter title. Perhaps this is pretty far-reaching too – I think Doug is pretty unusual in his appreciation for the art. Most illiterate eighth grade boys from such a background would not have stepped into a library or been interested in art or birds. But Doug’s descriptions of the birds, of how he identifies with them and how the reader sees his character as a result are powerful and moving. There were times when I paged back to look at the bird after reading Doug’s description. Would the book have been sold as a whole? Maybe without such an attached librarian – was he holding on the book, selling the plates one by so, so that there would be at least one bit of beauty in the town? What is the worst of two evils – having none of the book or having part? Certainly there are plenty of vandalized books in the world. Would the librarian have had time to instruct Doug? Seems like that was a very quiet library and he was glad to have company (unlike the librarian downstairs.) It didn’t seem as much art instruction to me as it did teaching Doug to look closely, to really see. And that is what Doug was so good at – looking closely at people and really seeing them. He gave people a chance, even when they had been absolutely rotten to him (the gym teacher.)
    So Wednesday Wars had Shakespeare, Okay for Now has Audubon. And the art was the thread that kept the narrative together for me. When I’ve described the plot to people, they look interested. When I mention Audubon, they usually look puzzled. How does that work? I’m not sure, but for me, Schmidt makes it all hang together.

  28. While I can understand the concerns raised over the ending, I have to say that I had no problem believing the turnaround of Doug’s father. We don’t know if this is a permanent change, and I don’t think Schmidt paints it as a permanent change I certainly didn’t get that impression. It’s not uncommon for an addict or abuser to decide that he/she is going to straighten up once and for all, and for a while, for loved ones to believe that yes, this time he/she really, really means it. And then we’re back to square one. As Brandy said in the previous post and Robin in this post, everything is “okay for now.”

    As for the other characters changing their attitude….I think I need to reread the book before I comment on that. When the father changed his behavior toward his family at the end, I did have to sit with it for a while before I accepted it and understood it. His abuse was breathtakingly cruel. How could anyone believe that he had really changed? But that’s one of the confusing things about addicts and abusers. They can swear up and down that this time, they’re changing their tune, turning over a new life, have a new lease on life, etc. You believe them because you desperately want this to be true. And I think that’s why I had no trouble accepting the newfound change in Doug’s father. I wanted it to be true, and so does Doug.

  29. Turning over a new leaf, that is. Forgive errors/typos, please-it’s almost 1 AM, despite the weird time stamp that SLJ blogs always have.

  30. Mr. H says:

    I, in no way, assumed the father had ever actually “turned a corner” as some are suggesting. He came clean about something dirty he had done. Chances are he will do something terrible again very soon.

    I’d like to call into question KT’s initial complaint raised with the book . . . Audobon’s bird book and illustrations. Schmidt did a ton of research for the novel and discovered that many pages of Audobon’s books were in fact, cut out of it and auctioned off. It happened a lot. Actually, there are very few fully in tact Birds of America out there today.

    I looked at the librarian as desperate and holding onto anything he could from the book. He had nowhere else to turn. I saw no issues with it, nor with all of the missing plates being located in the town. It’s not like he was auctioning them off on eBay in 1968!!!

    Realistic fiction: untrue characters and events that could be true; some characters and events may actually be true

  31. Mr. H says:

    In fact, Audobon’s book was rarely released as a complete set. He sold sets of pages at a time in order to pay for it. Schmidt has said he saw a copy of the book that was supposed to be 435 pages and there were 167 pages left.

    Just because a reader doubts something may happen, doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. Can’t hold that against Schmidt or the book.

  32. Brianna says:

    I agree with what Alys commented above. There was a point in the story when I wondered if this was Doug’s way of imagining/storytelling away some of the awfulness that was his everyday life. I also agree with Mr. H about Doug’s dad. There wasn’t really a transformation at the end at all. It seemed like things were going to be ok, but, as the title says, they are only OK for Now – which is what makes this book so profoundly sad. Even after all he has been through, Doug still has hope and optimism. But he’s just going to encounter all of that tough stuff again and again.

    The Broadway plot point was not so much unbelievable for me but too close of an echo of what happened in The Wednesday Wars. Two boys, similar character voices, and both are somehow coerced into being in a play? And both somehow end up sort of loving the experience? I am a drama teacher and I am a huge believer in the transformative powers of theatre, but it seemed too great of a coincidence to me that this would happen to the boys in both of Schmidt’s books. For a moment I wondered if I was re-reading The Wednesday Wars.

  33. marjorie says:

    Thank you for this discussion! I adored the first two-thirds of Okay for Now. (I liked it much more than The Wednesday Wars; I thought Wednesday Wars was terrific in terms of character but kind of sprawling and undisciplined in terms of plot. I found Okay for Now much, much more tightly constructed…at least until the last 50 pages or so.) What I loved: The descriptions of how real and alive Audubon’s drawings felt to Doug. How what the birds were doing in the pictures paralleled his own emotional state. How FUNNY the book was in spite of the horror. And how the lowering of Doug’s defenses happened in just the right way, just slowly/quickly/logically enough, at least for me. I was BLISSED OUT. LOVE LOVE LOVE. And then the ending made me nutballs. Lands alive, I hated it so much — not only the (the PLEASE I HOPE NO ONE IS READING THIS EXPECTING A SPOILER ALERT BUT IF SO WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU) Broadway mishegas but also a fatal illness? And redemption for Daddy Dearest? I think I was even more upset than KT Horning, because she was annoyed the entire time, and I felt absolutely betrayed by a book I had been thinking was one of the best books of the last few years. Waah. (That said, my 9-year-old thinks it is one of the best books she’s ever read, and while this is irrelevant to the Newbery peeps, it is very relevant to me. When I can pull back from my own disappointment, I do think it’s a humane and beautifully moral book. And I still appreciate all the art talk. So.)

  34. Nina Lindsay says:

    It is so interesting reading peoples different responses to this. While I’m someone who started to be pulled out of the story the more the coincences piled up, I have to say that the father’s return so startled and upset me that it actually turned me around to the finale in a good way. That is: I was fully expecting, from the way Schmidt was pulling out the stops, that the family was going to make a whole and complete rejection of the father. The fact that they accepted him back, and without any indication that a change would be made, shook me to the core. Schmidt set his characters up for a cycle of disappointment with this one. However, it was actually an extremely probable and realistic conclusion, and someone helped me to just accept everything. This is still remembering back to my emotional reaction to the book on first read. I have yet to give it a close second re-read.

  35. Betsy says:

    The title says it all, folks. Brianna hit the nail on the head. I, too, was jarred by daddy’s sudden turnaround (irritated at Schmidt for stooping to that, if you must know). And the wheelchair act up the steps. And the sudden hiring of wheelchair-bound brother by suddenly-nice gym coach.

    BUT, the title is what sums it up: even the very end, when the two kids are at the hospital, all we know is that it’s OKAY FOR NOW. We don’t know if the girl’s going to get better… and we don’t need to.

    I think Schmidt’s genius is telling us just enough: even the middle brother doesn’t have a name until he suddenly shows his more compassionate side. From that point on, he’s named and identified by Doug. I don’t know about you, but I didn’t even pick up on his lack of name until suddenly that name was supplied. Brilliant insight into Doug’s mind.

    So, when I look back at the dad’s turnaround, I get a little less irritated when I consider the context: the turnaround made things okay for now.

  36. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Responding to various points–

    Betsy: I’ll make you a proposal. You review THE FREEDOM MAZE by Delia Sherman on Fuse #8 and I’ll review JEFFERSON’S SONS here–and we’ll see who did the whole slavery era historical fiction thing better. Deal?

    April: I agree with Nina here. OKAY FOR NOW need not be perfect. It just needs to be more distinguished than its peers. OKAY FOR NOW is widely viewed as the frontrunner, and while I think the book does have flaws, I’m not really sure yet what I personally would put forward as the most distinguished contribution.

    Mark: Given that a handful of books each year can lay claim to being most distinguished, I do think that in terms of character, style, and setting, OKAY FOR NOW is indeed most distinguished, but I’m not sure that plot even rises to the distinguished level, and I think that dilutes the theme somewhat.

    Eric: The difference with MIXED UP FILES, of course, is that Konigsburg sells absurdity from the beginning. If you want to argue that OKAY FOR NOW is some kind of magical realism, I’m open to such arguments, provided you can show that he’s laid the foundation for that in the opening of the book. You can’t just switch gears in the last 50 pages in the book, right?

    Emotional truth vs. plotting: I hear what many of you are saying, that is, that while the events of the plot might not be rendered with infallible, logical precision, the inner life of Doug–the way he thinks and feels and responds to his world–rings true. I don’t think the latter necessarily excuses the former in terms of Newbery criteria, but I do understand the distinction here. (It happens to be the case with one of my pet novels, WHEN DAD KILLED MOM by Julius Lester.)

    WW vs. OFN: Since most people have focused on KTs various credibility issues rather than my Kenneth Oppel quote, I’m going to explore that a bit more. Are the voices of Holling and Doug similar to the point of being interchangeable? Did we just trade one suburban New York setting for another (i.e. Long Island for upstate New York) with just one year removed? Did we just switch out Shakespeare for Audubon? Do we have many of the same stock characters–The Longsuffering Mother, the Bad Dad, the Troubled Older Sibling, the Mentor, the Mean Teacher, the Bully, the Girl Friend? For me, I do have Oppel’s trade off. I feel so comfortable with everything, but at the same time it doesn’t seem fresh either. Schmidt juggles more subplots in this book, and the over-the-top elements at the end equate to bigger explosions, more villains, bigger car chases . . . and more tediousness. Not that this is a Newbery criteria or anything, but when I pin the Medal on a book, I want to feel like I’m in the hands of a master storyteller who was completely in control of their narrative. And I feel like the plot spiraled out of control at the end.

    As we have mentioned before, we all bring a lot of baggage to our first reading. On a second reading, I will need to evaluate how much of my muted response to the book is the result of unfair expectations placed on the book because of WEDNESDAY WARS. On the other hand, many of you will need to assess whether your strong emotional attachment prevents you from articulating the book’s strengths and recognizing it’s potential weaknesses.

  37. reg says:

    I was more bothered by the characterization of the Vietnam protesters than by the other questionable plot points. A whole book was written about the supposed spitting incidents. The author couldn’t find any proof that it ever happened. (The Spitting Image by Jerry Lembcke) I wish Schmidt hadn’t thrown this in. There were plenty of ways that America disrespected Vietnam veterans — but the opposition to the war did not take the form of spitting on vets. In fact there were many vets among the protesters.

  38. Genevieve says:

    In terms of WW and OFN, they didn’t seem interchangeable to me at all. Holling’s voice is quite different from Doug’s: Holling is more knowledgeable, more optimistic, and has a larger vocabularly, whereas Doug is thoroughly depressed at the beginning of the book and only slowly comes to stop referring to everything in his new town as stupid and boring. Doug’s new town is shown to be smaller and less modern than Holling’s (with a library that’s only open one day a week). Doug lives a much more hardscrabble life than Holling, with his family unable to afford to move all their belongings to their new town, his mother unable to afford plants for the new house’s garden, and a tiny new house he calls The Dump. Holling, on the other hand, lives in The Perfect House, as he calls it sardonically, with a parlor they never use (with a fancy piano) and perfectly groomed landscape.

  39. drh says:

    I find this discussion really curious. Novels raise questions about “what if,” not merely about “what was.” Many of the quibbles raised above (e.g., books being sliced up, veterans being spat upon, etc.) did indeed happen, but that, it seems to me is rather irrelevant. One might as usefully argue about whether or not the weather was warm enough to melt a carton of ice cream or whether there really was a trivia contest at the complany picnic or whether librarians ever shushed patrons in the 1960s.

    A novel is about character. This novel, in particular, it seems to me is about how a character in rather difficult circumstances makes it from childhood to adulthood. This novel shows characters who have been formed by their choices. What is at the center of the book is not an attempt to present an historical diorama of the Vietnam era; what is at the center is a young adults pyschological and moral world–the tale of how he makes his way through that world.

    There’s a long tradition in American fiction, articulated early on by Nathaniel Hawthorne, that makes a disctinction between a NOVEL and a ROMANCE. Since other folks are doing a bit of quoting, let me quote from the preface to the _The House of the Seven Gables_:

    WHEN A WRITER calls his work a romance, it need hardly be observed that he wishes to claim a certain latitude, both as to its fashion and material, which he would not have felt himself entitled to assume, had he professed to be writing a novel. The latter form of composition is presumed to aim at a very minute fidelity, not merely to the possible, but to the probable and ordinary course of man’s experience. The former–while, as a work of art, it must rigidly subject itself to laws, and while it sins unpardonably so far as it may swerve aside from the truth of the human heart–has fairly a right to present that truth under circumstances, to a great extent, of the writer’s own choosing or creation. If he think fit, also, he may so manage his atmospherical medium as to bring out or mellow the lights, and deepen and enrich the shadows, of the picture.

    Richard Chase talks about this further in _The American Novel and its Traditions_. I wonder if some of the writers above aren’t asking this book to be a novel, when it is, in Hawthorne’s terms, a romance.

    Those are the terms on which I read it–and enjoyed it enormously. In addition to what I’ve said above, I greatly appreciated the structure of the novel, in particular the ways in which the Audubon prints serve thematically as epigraphs for the individual chapters.

  40. Jonathan Hunt says:

    One person’s romance is another person’s melodrama. :-(

  41. Wendy says:

    Nevertheless, drh, Okay For Now IS a novel set in Vietnam-era USA, and there’s generally an assumption that details will be true to that setting–otherwise, why set it then? Setting details should be true to plot and characters (and vice versa), whether a book is historical fiction, realistic fiction, or fantasy. One of the things we frequently discuss at Heavy Medal is the accuracy of presented information. Sometimes there are items that are inaccurate–no one is infallible–and then we have a discussion about whether than inaccuracy really matters to the book. Sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn’t. You present three examples that I think you’re saying would be silly to debate, but actually, all three could potentially matter to the book or an individual reader. I mean, if an author presented a library setting in the 1960s where kids were allowed to run wild and no one shushed them, I would certainly mention that as not seeming true to the stated setting.

  42. Mark Flowers says:

    @ Wendy – just saing “Okay For Now IS a novel” is begging the question. Hawthorne’s own “romances” were set in very particular historical periods – 17th Century Boston and a fictionalized Brook Farm, for example – so simply saying that historical fiction can’t be a romance doesn’t quite cut it.

    On the other hand, you could argue that readers don’t really buy the concept of romance as Hawthorne understood it anymore–they demand all fiction to be “novels”– and I wouldn’t argue with you. But I think with drh is saying is that it doesn’t HAVE to be that way, and (as a Hawthorne fan) I agree.

  43. Eric Carpenter says:

    Schmitt set his novel in a small Catskills town. Is it inaccurate to name it Marysville if there isn’t a Marysville in the Catskills? There isn’t really a famous playwright named Windermere. Should Schmitt have changed the Ms. to a Mr. and called him Mr. Williams or Mr. Sondheim or Mr. Miller?
    Rereading Ms. Windermere’s introduction in the book it is clear that she isn’t merely a reclusive playwright but a very celebrated one. (take a another look at the actors who she has on her wallls, assuming they are up there b/c they appeared in one of her works: Richard Burton, Eliz Taylor, Yul Brynner, Telly Savalas, Danny Kaye, and Lucille Ball) Don’t you think Tenessee Williams could have choosen any young actor he wanted if he was writing a play with a young character. The way I read the story, Ms. Windermere has, by the time the casting decision is being made, taken a personal interest in Doug and putting Doug and Lil in the roles is certainly something within her considerable power.

  44. Mr. H says:

    I agree with Eric.

  45. Genevieve says:

    I agree with Eric as well.

  46. Jonathan Hunt says:

    But wait! Is there anybody who DOESN”T agree with Eric on this point? I don’t think anybody took issue with a fictional Marysville or Windermere? Did they?

  47. Wendy says:

    I think he means to make a connection between making up fictional towns and making up things that, perhaps, don’t ring true for some of us, like inexperienced kids being on Broadway or Joe Pepitone (a real person) going to Jane Eyre, and what bothers me more, totally remembering Doug. Of course authors can and do make things up; it’s a false connection.

    I’m repeating what others have said here, but: whether or not it’s POSSIBLE that Mrs. Windermere could have gotten Doug and Lil in the play (which would, IMHO, be a stupid move; New York drama critics are hella vicious), it does not seem likely or realistic to me, which takes away from the verisimilitude of the rest of the book. That said, I have read that even Andrew Lloyd Webber has not always been able to cast the actors/actresses he wants. It seems to me kind of like how most authors have zero control over their books’ cover illustrations. We could argue that back and forth, but I don’t know that it comes down to anything more than: it doesn’t work for me.

  48. Nina Lindsay says:

    Wendy, you know, it doesn’t work for me either. But that’s because of who I am as a reader. I think that it works for his intended audience. On re-reading, I’m going to be looking at the pacing, and whether Schmidt sets up his readers to expect just enough out-of-the-ordinary that they’ll go for the stomach-dipping roller coaster of the ending. Does he ask us, at some point, to strap on our safety belts? My memory is that I think he pulls it off. I’ve got to start marking passages though….

  49. Mark Flowers says:

    Wendy – over on the May Amelia page you said that “I never felt that she was saying everything happened as quickly in life as it does on the page”, which sounds like you are saying that it might not have been strictly realistic but that it “worked for you.” Those aren’t scare quotes–I think that is a completely valid reaction. But I’m interested in how that interacts with your (and my) feelings about OFN.

    So we have an interesting case here – Wendy, at least, and it sounds like Nina and Jonathan too, were are troubled by the implausibilities at the end of OFN, but not so much by those in May Amelia. I for one, had the reverse reaction – troubled by what I saw as implausibilities in May Amelia, not as much by OFN. (btw – I’m not arguing that these cases are identical, it just so happened that these discussions were going on at the same time).

    Is there any way we can come to any kind of objective statement about either one? Or does it just come down to “it doesn’t work for me”? I don’t know the answer, but I find it fascinating. I like Nina’s suggestion that we look for internal evidence that Schmidt or Holm were preparing us for these implausibilities – maybe there’s an answer there.

  50. Nina Lindsay says:

    …and if not preparing us for THESE implausibilities, in some way setting a tone to put the reader in the right frame of mind. Remember that none of us are the intended audience. We are adults, and we’ve seen it all before.

    I’m trying to think of some examples we can draw on. THE WESTING GAME is a little extreme, but that’s what I’m talking about in terms of setting a tone that gives enough room for some probably-wouldn’t-happen-this-way-but-COULD! Okay, I’m grabbing my copy…

    …and here, on p.1: “Joe Pepitone once gave me his New York Yankess baseball cap. I’m not lying. He gave it to me. To me, Doug Swieteck. To me.”

    Sheesh, yes. I don’t think I’m going to have a problem finding more examples that Schmidt prepares his readers–pretty obviously–to accept a little out of the orindariness. In fact, isn’t this just like Raskin afterall? Let me grab that one….

    The Westing Game. By Ellen Raskin. Page One.

    “The sun sets in the west (just about everyone knows that), but Sunset Towers faced east. Strange!”

  51. Wendy says:

    Mark, that isn’t what I was trying to say about May Amelia at all. As I said, I found everything about that situation totally plausible. Another reader felt it all happened too fast, in the space of a few hundred words; my point is that just because Holm only devotes a few hundred words to the situation doesn’t mean we are to assume the brother got this far in recovery in the space of a few hundred real-life words.

    About Okay for Now: as I mentioned much earlier, I can accept more of the implausibilities if I take another reader’s suggestion that the book is meant to be Dickensian or Victorian in structure. But I don’t see the example you’re giving, Nina–sports figures are always giving away memorabilia. Anyway, the Dickensian idea is why I’m not too worried about things like Doug learning to read so fast or enjoying Jane Eyre or getting to have this Estella character for a girlfriend or his father finally coming around. It’s really the entire Broadway plot that gets me.

  52. brian says:

    I’m not covering any new ground here. I know that both KT and Jonathan have said that they like the book better than it sounds like they do, and that’s what my comment is about. I don’t like the book, and I really like Schmidt. I just like parts of the book. I liked the early, spare and close to the bone depiction of Doug’s home life. I liked the descriptions of drawing technique. I liked learning more about Audobon. I liked reading about Doug making his deliveries with frozen hands. However, it’s not a good book because Schmidt filled it up with cheap tricks, which KT pointed out so I won’t rehash them. It has some stellar moments and some good elements, but not all of the pieces hang together, and if they don’t hang together it is not a good book, despite the fact that it’s getting lots of buzz. With all of the loose ends so neatly tied up, so many of the implausible situations swept under the rug and everyone’s wounds so quickly healed, I’d have to categorize it as After School Special rather than Dickensian or Victorian.

  53. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Well, I do think the voice of Doug is a wonderful creation. It does have sort of a Pied Piper effect, creating a tone where we can believe anything, and that’s why I’m willing to acknowledge that this part of the book falls in the *most* distinguished category even if I myself didn’t fall as completely under its spell as others have. But I don’t want us to get trapped in a false either/or conundrum. That is, that he either could have created this wonderful voice or he could have created a credible plot. Because, in truth, he could have done both.

  54. Nina Lindsay says:

    Wendy, it’s more of the tone I’m talking about in that first sentence. Doug is talking about it as if it is such a fantastic event that it should be doubted, but urging the reader not to doubt him.

  55. Genevieve says:

    That’s a great point about the tone (and the comparison to The Westing Game). And it’s not just that Joe Pepitone gave him sports memorabilia, like he was a kid lining up at an event to get something signed. The next paragraph says “Joe Pepitone and Horace Clarke came all the way out on the Island to Camillo Junior High and I threw with them. Me and Danny Hupfer and Holling Hoodhood, who were good guys. We all threw with Joe Pepitone, and we batted too. They sang to us while we swung away: “He’s a batta, he’s a batta-batta, he’s a batta-batta . . . ” That was their song.”

    And then when his brother takes the cap away, Doug does a lot of daydreaming/wishing that he could see Joe Pepitone just one more time, and Joe would laugh and rough up Doug’s hair and put another cap on Doug’s head and would say Doug looks better in it anyway. “Because that’s the kind of guy Joe Pepitone is.” And he thinks when he’s sitting on the library steps and no one stops and talks to him, that if Joe Pepitone were there, he’d sit down with him on the steps and talk with him about how the season was going, and then invite him to go throw a few. Which is a pipe dream, but a pipe dream based on the true thing that already happened to him which was just like a daydream come true, especially given the bleakness of everything else in Doug’s life.

    So when Joe Pepitone shows up at Jane Eyre, it’s both what Doug has devoutly hoped for and what he is horrified by coming true, because at that moment Doug is dressed as a girl in a bonnet and about to go on stage in front of his hero. It’s a culmination of his wish coming true in what seems to him like the worst way possible. And then it’s okay, because Joe Pepitone thought he was good and didn’t think it was embarrassing that he was a girl. (and you know, there are professional athletes who go to the theater — it’s not like an alien came and watched the show.)

    So it is that sort of magical coincidence that you see in a book like The Westing Game, but Doug has already got you suspending disbelief that these players were nice enough to come out to the school to throw with the boys (if you’ve read the previous book, it was because Mickey Mantle was an ass who humiliated Holling — because Holling was in a theater costume — so you may have already established that Joe Pepitone was a mensch who didn’t think badly of a kid for being in an absurd costume).

  56. Pepitone is also alluded to when Doug first encounters Mrs. Windermere.

    from page 46: “She wore a bluish kind of gown that shimmered–it looked like something that someone about to go to an opera would wear (not that I’ve ever been to an opera, or would ever be caught dead at one. Can you imagine Joe Pepitone ever going to an opera?)”

  57. Mr. H says:

    Wow! Awesome finds . . .

  58. Mr. H says:

    Wow! Awesome finds . . . Should put that argument to bed . . .

  59. Nina Lindsay says:

    No Newbery argument likes to go to bed this early :)

  60. I reread OKAY FOR NOW this past week. I tried to read it with the most critical eye I could muster. What I came away with was an even deeper appreciation for the book. On this, my fourth reading, I tried to see the story turns the way KT and Jonathan had. I looked for reasons to question the events but it was hopeless. Doug’s voice and Schmidt’s plotting once again sucked me all the way in. Only once was I consciously pulled out of the narrative. (when on page 300 Mr McElroy says “I guess actors aren’t so important after all. You can’t imagine an actor ever becoming president of the United States, for example”). –i hate it when authors wink at the reader like this.
    On this rereading OFN I noticed Schmidt carefully preparing the reader for the events that follow. We sees Doug’s dad’s propensity for kindness at the company picnic when he holds his wife’s hand. From page 158: “You know how good an orange Dreamsicle tastes on a blue fall day when you’re full of grilled chicken and your mother is laughing a real laugh like she used to and once you look over and your father is holding her hand like they haven’t in a long long long time?” Of course this line is immediately followed by: “Until Ernie Eco came and she walked away”. Doug’s dad didn’t change overnight like many commentators claim. He was once good and maybe can be again but Eco plus booze creates a quick handed monster. We see another subtle change in the dad after Doug witnesses Eco wearing his Yankee’s jacket. The dad clearly feels terrible but is also very clearly afraid of his “friend” so not being able to solve real problem dad begins to withdraw himself even further. I’m not saying Doug’s dad is anything close to a good guy
    but we (and Doug) do not really know what kind of courage it took to make that call to the police, or how long Doug’s dad struggled with the decision to do so.

    The story is about Doug discovering that his initial expectations are usually wrong just as everyone around him (other than his mother) has false first impressions about him. For example when Doug first sees the men playing horseshoes at the picnic he quickly writes the game off and calls the participants chumps. This is Doug’s defense mechanism. In chapter 1 he claims he doesn’t draw because he’s not a chump. Later he goes to the library to draw but not to read the books because he’s not a chump. Babysitting is something else Doug (and Christopher for that matter) ends up enjoying even though it’s for chumps. Doug expects James Russell’s father to be a slight/effeminate man because he plays the flute but when he meets him he sees that Mr. Russell is as a huge man. Doug struggles throughout the book to overcome the prejudices he has learned from his father and brothers. He is so worried about how they will perceive his actions (and what the consequences might be for said perceptions). Doug assumes theater is for chumps and there is no way the ultimate “anti-chump’ Joe Pepitone would ever be caught dead in a theater.
    What is ironic of course, is that Doug is forever complaining about how others perceive him. On his first walk through Marysville he meets Lil in front of the library. Lil treats Doug like a delinquent because he talks to her like Lucas would and also because his face is sporting a newly received bruise courtesy of dad’s “quick hands” on page 13. (while it’s never stated explicitly on this reading I began to think that Doug might actually have a black eye during his first weekend in Marysville which would explain both Lil and Mrs. Merriam treat him like a “skinny thug” when they first meet him.

  61. Forgot to mention another instance of foreshadowing on page 231:
    [upon learning that Mrs. Windermere is writing a stage adaptation of Jane Eyre]
    “Can you imagine anyone buying tickets to Jane Eyre? Can you imagine Joe Pepitone buying tickets to Jane Eyre? Me neither.”

  62. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Eric, have you read DEAD END IN NORVELT yet? If so, how do you think it compares to OKAY FOR NOW? I would be interested in a general head-to-head comparison, but also specifically in the way that Gantos, too, establishes a tone that allows for the stretching of credibility. And yet we’ve heard no complaints about it, perhaps because not enough people have read it yet, or perhaps because we really are unfairly picking on Schmidt. What’s your take?

  63. I’m not Eric, but I think that Gantos establishes a sort of hyper-reality from the beginning whereas Schmidt starts out in what seems more conventionally-realistic. So all along situations seem over-the-top with Gantos whereas it is at the end of the Schmidt that it feels clearly dreamlike. Gantos has a bright sort of wildness all the way through while Schmidt has something more subtle happening if indeed, as some are suggesting, there is a sort of fairy tale aspect to the novel. So head-to-head seems problematic as each is doing something so different in their unreality, so to say.

  64. I read DEAD END IN NORVELT back in June and really enjoyed it. I liked it more than the Joey Pigza books but not quite as much as Hole in My Life.
    I remember laughing out loud a number of times and was in absolute hysterics during the initial hand melting scene. I also remember wanting to see the tertiary characters more often. Jack’s friend (the quick-short girl) was an interesting character and I wanted to see more of her. Tonally, I thought the narrative was looser and gave me the impression that anything could happen at anytime.
    The book felt more like a “how I spent my crazy summer” story than the much weightier OFN.
    My take on the lack of complaints regarding DEIN:
    1. Not the clear front runner so no backlash (yet?)
    2. Our little world has more experts in baseball and broadway than experts in either personal aircrafts or N.I.R.A. subsistence homestead communities.
    3. DEIN is more of a comedy and therefore gets more leeway.

    I lent out my copy so I don’t have it here to reference and it’s been a while since I read it but I think DEAD END makes my top 5 along with HIDDEN, TROUBLE WITH MAY AMELIA, POINT MOUETTE and of course OFN. Still to read: A MONSTER CALLS (starting tonight), BIGGER THAN A BREAD, BREADCRUMBS and CHESHIRE CHEESE CAT.

  65. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Monica, I agree on how you would differentiate the two. Do you think one approach works better? And if so, why? Is it a purely subjective preference? I think you can do the OFN approach successfully (of course, some are arguing that OFN does the OFN successfully; I’ll need a second read to agree or disagree). Anyway, I’d argue that Daniel Pinkwater frequently writes these kind of books that start off in a completely realistic fashion and then gradually degenerate into absurdity, but I don’t think Schmidt’s intention is ever to take it as far as Pinkwater does. When I compare OFN and DEIN in each of the categories–plot, setting, character, style, and theme–I find them fairly even, although I find OFN slightly more distinguished in terms of style and character, but slightly less distinguished in terms of plot. I know the discussion of OFN has focused on criticizing it in a vacuum, but I wanted to bring the discussion back around to Nina’s original intent–which was to compare it to another strong book which shared many similar strengths.

    Eric, I do think that there is an element of backlash in this discussion where people are responding not so much to OFN itself as much as they are responding to other people’s reactions to OFN. I think Wendy articulated it best on a previous thread–

    I’m understanding much better the frustration of some people a few years ago when some of us (me, for instance) treated the win of When You Reach Me as a foregone conclusion (or if it didn’t win, it’d be theft). I still feel that way about When You Reach Me. But Okay For Now? I thought it was good, but not astonishing. I’m not really a contrary person, but the extreme levels of championship for a book I might ordinarily have been championing myself instead have me looking for holes and crafting arguments.

    I, too, like DEIN more than the Joey Pigza books. As we pick up more readers, it will indeed be interesting to see if we get some “experts” on those topics. I’m not sure I would agree with your third point, however. I think both books are comedies that have dark elements.

  66. Mr. H says:

    Okay, some info to share . . .

    We wrapped up reading OKAY FOR NOW today, my fifth grade class and I. On Monday when we were approaching the part of the Broadway show and Doug found out he has to take Lil’s place and he’s pointing out that the Mayor is in the crowd and Jimmy Stewart . . . he slowly builds to letting us know that someone even better is in the crowd and immediately, before it is even revealed, half of my fifth graders were leaning forward eagerly in their desks shouting “Joe Pepitone! Joe Pepitone!”

    They sure bought it!

  67. Genevieve says:

    I love it! Thanks for sharing that, Mr. H.

  68. Sam Bloom says:

    I just finished a 2nd reading of this last night, and now I’ve gone through and re-read this post and all the comments. I’m trying to prepare myself for my Library’s Mock Newbery (this coming Thursday! Woohooo!) and I must say… although I’ve read some pretty strong contenders this year, this one has, to me, by far the highest highs of anything else I’ve read. I think the way Schmidt uses the Audobon pieces throughout the story is truly masterful – I was especially struck by Doug’s experiences redoing the wrestling unit in P.E. and the way Schmidt used the Snowy Heron (pp. 199-202) and Joel’s asthma attack and the Black-Backed Gull (285-287). I don’t think any other book I’ve read this year comes even close in terms of Theme, and those two examples are drops in the bucket. I feel like Schmidt really nailed the setting, too, and in many ways I found Doug’s narrative extremely effective – I think Mr. H already mentioned a few of the times when Doug said less with more, such as when he reveals what Principal Peattie said and when he finally shared his brother Christopher’s name.

    But man… the problems with this book are almost starting to become too much to overlook. SO many characters were SO completely unbelievable and/or overwritten to the point of parody, I almost threw the book at the wall a few times. Principal Peattie – was anyone else picturing the principal from Lemony Snicket’s Austere Academy? He was that cartoonish to me, referring to himself in the third person over and over. Just ridiculous. I also had a major problem with several things that people have already touched on, so I won’t belabor the points, but let’s just say Lucas’s hiring at the school tops the list. Also, I don’t think anyone else has mentioned this, but how the heck did Doug become a strong enough reader to be able to read the names of the books in Mrs. Windermere’s house and therefore find Aaron Copland’s Autobiography? That seemed like a distressingly big stretch from someone who was at one point seemingly unable to read much of anything, but boy does it help move the plot along!

    One other concern I had – and I admit I loved Doug and often found myself laughing at the hilariously deadpan way he looked at things – was with what I consider to be an overuse of the rhetorical question. So what? Do you know what that feels like? I counted 10 of those within a 5-page span at one point (YES! I’m the sort of freak who counts these things) and after a while it most definitely seemed to me to be overwriting the character.

    Finally, we’ve talked about the everything-and-the-kitchen-sink ending, and I really feel like this book tried to do too much. The Broadway Play. The terminally ill girlfriend. The wheelchair-bound older brother’s return from Vietnam and inability to re-assimilate into society. It felt like it was stretched too thin.

  69. Mr. H says:

    Sam, it’s interesting you mention the “So what?” Who cares?” questions in Doug’s narrative. Because those were the only parts of the book my 5th grade class hated. It got to be where they laughed and rolled their eyes each time he said it. I actually skipped them a bunch, when I noticed they were coming and didn’t take away from the narrative. Made it a much more affecting read aloud when they were more spread out.

  70. Janet Bargar says:

    Did anyone else find the saintly mother’s characterization a little hard to bear? When she awoke that morning and discovered her twelve year old had been tattoed with an abusive message by his dad…did she look out the window and stare at something far away? I don’t have a problem with weak characters who can’t protect their loved ones…but she is portrayed as valiently enduring all this cruelty. Not “Okay”!

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