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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

Okay For Now Redux

9780547534176 Okay For Now ReduxStill number one on the Goodreads Newbery poll, and probably the most frequently commented-on book on this blog, even since before the The Gloves Come Off post… Schmidt’s latest is at least the most talked about favorite this year.  So how does it really stack up against our shortlist?  Because here we are: it’s January 2012, the awards on the horizon, our own voting to take place starting next week, and it’s time to start making some decisions.  So, while it’s going to be hard for me to say anything new about OKAY FOR NOW in a “redux” post, I’m interested in tackling the big question: does it rise to the very top?

Voice and gesture. These are the things that leap to my mind in my memory of this book…the taste of it…and there I find a comparison to THE TROUBLE WITH MAY AMELIA. I believe in Holm’s and Schmidt’s characters, can feel their flesh-and-bloodness….more than any other titles on our shortlist…with a close knock from  A MONSTER CALLS. But while Ness’s character’s reality is rooted in allegory/interior voice, Schmidt’s is in an exterior voice, a way of seeing the world, and making emotional metaphor from real images.  A smile; the arc of a line in a drawing; an orchid; a jacket; a cold Coke…

There’s an interesting play between subtlety and melodrama in Schmidts’ writing.  Certain things are only alluded to…Doug’s illiteracy, Lil’s probable cancer…but are shown through what is experienced. Doug’s difficultly matching Mr. Spicer’s map against the streetsigns. Lil’s loss of hair.  And there’s a lot of allusion to backstory in Doug’s descriptions of his family-members gestures. His mother’s smile, the way Lucas can be either the “old” or the “new”.  And then there’s the purposefully over-written…Doug’s voice repeating things, using short lines, and multiple-layered metaphors to gear up the emotion.   There’s also that trick Schmidt has of not naming Christopher until he does something that changes Doug’s recognition of him (p.220 in the ARC).  Schmidt used this trick too in THE WEDNESDAY WARS. It’s a lovely one, and is somehow both subtle (calling him “my brother” for 200 pages has an effect, but not an obvious one), and melodramatic in its execution.   It’s the subtlety in Schmidt’s writing that allows him to be melodramatic.  Like an over-the-top cake has got to be refined in all its elements, otherwise it’s just gross.

We argued quite a bit at The Gloves Come Off about whether or not this writing style ultimately supported the implausibilities in plot or character. Interestingly, my memory of the book had grown much kinder than my reading of it, and in re-reading I found myself irked in exactly the same places as I had been before, when the balance of subtlely/melodrama seemed off to me.  I think that the wandering of the plot doesn’t help this.  I didn’t feel like the book needed a stronger plotline, but so often things seemed to happen just in order for Schmidt to have another heartwarming turnaround with a minor character.  The principal, the coach…  they’d been set up so nicely as foils, did they have to have “aw” moments?  Yet, still, at some point it’s piled on so much that it starts to make its own sense. (p.342 “Stats don’t mean anything. But some thing mean everything. And that June, those things that mean everything, they kept coming, faster and faster.)  You have to let go and run with it….

…And that makes me ask, is this really in the service of it’s readers? I’m very much still on the fence with this.  This is a book that packs a uniquely distinguished punch.  But it requires its readers to leap, and readers have to bring a lot of their own to make that leap.  So, is this as well developed/delineated a story as…  I BROKE MY TRUNK? THE MONEY WE’LL SAVE?  Just because this has more “things that mean everything” in it, does that make it more distinguished than a short work that might be more finely crafted?  OKAY FOR NOW is battling hard for a place in my top three, and I’m still not sure where it’ll wind up.

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Nina Lindsay About Nina Lindsay

Nina Lindsay is the Children's Services Coordinator at the Oakland Public Library, CA. She chaired the 2008 Newbery Committee, and served on the 2004 and 1998 committees. You can reach her at ninalindsay@gmail.com

Comments

  1. Debbie says:

    I agree with everything you said. I loved this book until the last chapters. I didn’t believe in these transformations of the characters.(dad, brother, coach) Actually, I would have accepted this book more if they hadn’t changed. This book feels like a sitcom where they have to tie up all the loose ends in 30 minutes. What life situation actually happens like that? When I look at the book compared to the Newbery winner, Bud Not Buddy, Bud did not have that last conversation between himself and Herman Calloway. The author let us think about what Bud’s life would be like from this point. I think less would be more in this book also.

  2. Sheila Kelly Welch says:

    I read The Wednesday Wars and was not a fan, but I wanted to give this book a chance. At first, I was pleased, but gradually my attitude changed. I had to drag myself to the end. Apparently, my reaction is not typical and must just be that I have different taste in books. But . . . there are so many things that bothered me about this novel.

    Okay, I just reread the ending. Lil’s not going to live, right? Is that maybe the point of the whole long book? All this positive stuff, but we’re all destined to die? If that’s his point, I can almost forgive Schmidlt all those uplifting transformations, stats, etc. Almost. (I am being only slightly sarcastic.)

    I think I actually like his style in small doses. And the power of art to uplift and sustain life and hope is a lovely theme. But, this could have been a much better book with a lot of cutting. I agree with Debbie, especially her last sentence, which is almost what I said in my Goodreads review. I know an editor who says “Less is more.” This book is an example of “More is less.”

    If Okay for Now does win the Newbery, I will apply to the committee the adjective that Doug repeats so often about his new town and then say, as he does, “Terrific.”

  3. Maria Simon says:

    I think that OFN does rise to the very top. It is powerful. It provokes thoughts and emotions and obviously a great deal of discussion – even before the gauntlet was thrown down in “The Gloves Come Off.”

    Doug is a classic hard to reach young man who is painfully mistreated and misunderstood, but Schmidt gives him such a strong voice. He can say nothing and tell the reader everything or he can “scream like an insane woman who has been locked in an attic for a great many years!” His voice is his javelin and he learns to use it well. Doug is an unlikely hero on an impossible quest.

    What I loved was the play between reality and romance in Schmidt’s writing. I think Schmidt’s writing does make sense, is of significant service to his readers, and means everything.

    I think OFN will wind up a winner.

  4. Will Weaver says:

    As an NBA 2011 youth lit judge I had the pleasure of reading Gary Schmidt’s OKAY FOR NOW (along with 277 other titles). OK… was an NBA finalist as you know, and we judges saw it as a standout early on. Some of the judges–our panel was Ann Brashares, Nikki Grimes, Marc Aronson and Matt de la Pena’ and myself–liked how it came slightly “unstuck” from reality, what with some larger plot coincidences with baseball star Joe Pepitone and the theatre production, etc. I thought there was slightly too much plot, but I loved Gary’s deep generosity of spirit in the book. He’s not afraid to reach far and wide in a book, and sometimes we need that to refresh our spirit as readers.

    THE TROUBLE WITH MAY AMELIA got some attention–it was a sweet and “safe” book–but had a hard time competing with weightier titles. It might be a very nice fit in the
    ‘Newbery ‘discussions.

  5. Jonathan Hunt says:

    I still need to reread this book, but as I’ve reflected on this title, how to summarize its strengths and weaknesses and compare them, a certain song title keeps coming inexplicably to mind: “You’ve Gotta Have Heart” from Damn Yankees. This is a book with a lot of heart, not that that’s a Newbery criteria or anything. I think it’s the reason that so many of us are willing to forgive the excesses in plot and character toward the very end.

    Coming on the heels of the WONDERSTRUCK discussion, I’d ask people to compare the plotting/characterization problems in both novels. I think they are problematic to a similar degree, but because we love the characters in OKAY FOR NOW so much we kind of sweep the problems under the rug. Despite those problems, I don’t think there are very many titles that will be easier to build consensus around: maybe A MONSTER CALLS, maybe AMELIA LOST, maybe something else. So, like Nina, I’m resisting this one for now, but I could see myself supporting this one eventually, depending how the discussion goes. But I also won’t be broken-hearted if it gets completely blanked either.

  6. Sondy says:

    I recently “reread” OKAY FOR NOW via audiobook, and I liked it more than ever. I noticed what I thought was distinguished plotting all the more for reading it more slowly. I loved the way several different elements were repeated, but subtly changed as the book progressed. Even Doug’s use of the word “Terrific” changed from sarcastic to serious.

    The big turning points in the book were all Smack in the middle (on the 4th CD): finding out about his tattoo, his brother coming home, and some others.

    I loved the way Gary Schmidt shows you rather than tells you that Doug’s father is wrong about a lot of things (like how when everything’s going well, something bad will happen), especially notable when Mr. Big Bucks Ballard turns out to be so nice and thoughtful and caring.

    The repeated elements included his mother’s smile, “shriek like an insane woman who’s been locked in an attic a great number of years,” “bloody bloody murderer,” “do you know how that feels?”, stats, and so much more.

    I do like that the reader can decide for herself whether Lil’s going to live or die. I’m opting for life, but then I was happy about the Dad’s transformation, too. Call me an optimist.

    One thing that impressed me was that Gary Schmidt started with a kid I wouldn’t have liked at all in real life, a kid who didn’t even want to be seen in a library. And by the end of the book, I loved that kid and wanted everything good for him. How’d he manage that?

  7. This is a complete tangent, but Sondy made me wonder: if the reader gets to decide if Lil lives or dies are we in The Giver territory? That is, will Schmidt eventually pull the rug out from under us with another novel where she shows up as does (spoiler:) Jonah in Gathering Blue?

    And back to the topic, I like Will’s term “unstuck” for the last part of the book.

  8. Genevieve says:

    Sondy described so many things I loved about this book but had difficulty in articulating. It definitely works for me to think of the end as a bit unstuck from reality, as a romance, as a cascade of good things happening to a boy who’d undergone so many bad things, starting small and then, as he is willing to trust a little more at a time and give a little more of himself each time, snowballing into an avalanche of good things. But Lil’s illness keeping it from being only sticky-sweet good at the end – life is still a mixture of good and bad – and what I liked from the storyline of Lil’s illness is how plots and themes from earlier interactions that sprung from Lil’s suggestion of the delivery route were further developed, with Doug (who’d at first been so happy to have some money of his own from the tips, even just enough to buy a cold Coke) saying he’d do it without being paid, with all the customers on the route giving him something to give Lil’s dad (as they had previously given him plants for his mother), etc.

    It didn’t occur to me that Lil died. Maybe because I’m an optimist, and saw their talk of future events like living in Marysville and Doug’s sureness that the stats were only numbers to mean that she’d surmount the odds.

  9. Mr. H says:

    I’m usually an optimist, but I took the whole blasting off for the moon metaphor near the end, to mean that Lil’s chances of survival were pretty slim by the close of the book. That’s just me though.

  10. samuel says:

    I believe there are plot flaws in Okay For Now….but I have not found any book for 2011 that is overall more distinguished. Amelia Lost, A Monster Calls and Sparrow Road are Three books close to Schmidt—but not close enough to steal the gold.

  11. Wendy says:

    Pretty condescending, Will Weaver, considering the NBA was once given to The Penderwicks.

  12. Dean Schneider says:

    For OKAY FOR NOW, it seems to me it depends on the the makeup of the committee. Does it happen to be a committee that sees coincidences, unlikely occurrences, inaccuracies or outright fabrications of history (I’m more thinking of Wednesday Wars, here, on this latter point) to be aspects of a new kind of fiction Schmidt is writing, fiction that is “unstuck” from reality as Will Weaver said, or is it a committee that’s more cut and dry about the criteria, unwilling to overlook these perceived flaws while recognizing Schmidt’s talents as a storyteller. I’m guessing an Honor, but not the Medal.

  13. Mr. H says:

    This book’s hard to continue discussing because so much as already been said on here. If you (Nina and Jonathan) still haven’t decided to place it in your top three, then it must not be in your top three. Personally, I get the feeling you both *want* it in your top three, but don’t like it near as much as some other books. The praises you both give this book seem to be a little half-hearted, compared to some that you’ve given other books . . . The fact that neither of you are willing to fight a little for this one, says a lot to me. But as I said, convincing you otherwise at this point in time, is going to be mighty difficult because a lot has already been said about this book. There’s not much else to say.

    I’ve read OKAY FOR NOW three times now, and to me, it’s highs are higher than anything else I’ve personally read this year and that’s enough for me. The power behind the writing is matched only by A MONSTER CALLS and between the two of them, OKAY FOR NOW is more my cup of tea. I think Doug’s voice is more distinguished than Ness’s creative tale. I like particular aspects to Schmidt’s writing that Nina, you’ve mentioned above; like the reveal of Christopher’s name, the slow reveal of Lucas’ dilemma, the things Doug is told by others but doesn’t reveal to the reader until later . . . there’s so much that I like about this book, that I don’t care if I have to suspend some disbelief. That’s why it’s a fictional story.

    I think those that want to continue to dwell on the “inaccuracies” in this book, are totally and completely missing the point of this work of FICTION.

  14. Sheila Kelly Welch says:

    Good point, Mr. H. It is fiction. And not realistic fiction. Maybe a form of tall tale.

    If readers accept Doug as a storyteller — and that’s what he is — and love his voice and realize that he is probably a totally or partially unreliable narrator, then all the many glitches in the events of his life are acceptable. Doug is able to rewrite the story of his life, but in the end, he faces the truth, or at least hints at it. So, I actually appreciated the ending, and I might have liked the whole book if it had been tightened a LOT. As is, it’s not my cup of tea.

  15. Wendy says:

    Mr. H, there are “inaccuracies”, and then there are “improbabilities”. I think in this particular book, the improbabilities are more troubling than inaccuracies (since I don’t think any of those are particularly glaring). We can believe improbable things, without even trying, if the writing is done “right”. That’s why we can believe that all of those people in The Westing Game were willing to move into the same apartment building and it makes sense that Jamie and Claudia were able to hide in the museum for so long.

    I think I do pretty much agree with you that this book has the “highest highs”, except maybe for Drawing From Memory. As I’ve said before, I would give the Newbery to the first half of this book if I could.

  16. One of the challenges of being on the Newbery Committee is that you read with all your reading history at play yet you can only speak about the book at hand, you can’t reference any of that history at all. And so I read OKAY FOR NOW having read closely many times THE WEDNESDAY WARS (having been on the committee that gave it a Newbery Honor) and noticed many things I would not be able to bring to the table. For example, I LOVED the way Schmidt didn’t name the sister in THE WEDNESDAY WARS until things changed between the siblings and am not sure how I feel about his reusing the trope in OKAY FOR NOW. Can’t help feeling that it feels a bit used here, but I wouldn’t be able to say that and for readers who hadn’t encountered it before I’m sure it feels as fresh as it did for me in 2007.

    On the other hand all the discussion here about the book’s unreal, tall tale, fantastical final pages is incredibly helpful to me. At first I felt that much as I loved THE WEDNESDAY WARS I had found the ending weak and thought the same thing about OKAY FOR NOW, that endngs were Schmidt’s general weakness. Not something I could raise to the Committee, but I’m happily being more and more convinced about the intentionality of the “unstuckness” in the final moments of OKAY FOR NOW which pleases me.

  17. Jonathan Hunt says:

    I’m feeling a lot less certain about my top three at this point than I have in the past. The only book that I would place there pre-discussion is AMELIA LOST (so I guess that is my tentative first place vote). Everything else is strategic for me. If I BROKE MY TRUNK!, THE MONEY WE’LL SAVE, or SIR GAWAIN were in serious contention, then I would include them, but the odds are that they would not *all* be in contention, but one of them might be. Then there’s the middle grade fiction and I’m still most likely to support OKAY FOR NOW, A MONSTER CALLS, or PENDERWICKS, but I’m not convinced yet that these are necessarily better than other titles (in the way that I think AMELIA LOST clearly distances itself from the other nonfiction contenders); I think I just like them more.

    OKAY FOR NOW may indeed have some of the highest highs, but it also has some of the lowest lows, and I would reject any argument that does not seek to evaluate the book holistically. I do think we can say that strengths compensate for minor weaknesses. Last year, we were forgiving of some geographical inaccuracies in ONE CRAZY SUMMER. This year, I think I can forgive Joe Pepitone being in two places at the same time. I am uncomfortable saying that strengths can compensate for major weaknesses. In PENDERWICKS we have a single improbable event; in OKAY FOR NOW we have several. In MAY AMELIA, we have several plausible events taking place in an implausible time frame; in OKAY FOR NOW we have them taking place in just a few chapters. So we have implausibility piled on improbability piled on inaccuracy. While I, too, love the term “unstuck” it doesn’t diminish the problem I have with the ending.

    WONDERSTRUCK is a perfect foil for OKAY FOR NOW because every defense can be applied to it as well. WONDERSTRUCK is also unstuck from reality. WONDERSTRUCK is also FICTION. Blah, blah, blah. So why do we forgive the one, but not the other? Well, yes, I think that character and style are clearly stronger in OKAY FOR NOW, but that doesn’t resolve the problems both books have with contrivance in plot and character. No, ultimately we forgive OKAY FOR NOW because we like it better.

    And liking it better may be enough, but it depends on the make-up of the committee. Let’s say we discuss, we vote, and on that first ballot OKAY FOR NOW has 6 first place votes and no other book has more than 2. Clearly, OKAY FOR NOW is in a position of strength–it only needs to pick up a couple more votes on the next ballot–but let’s say it’s more of a dogfight. Let’s say OKAY FOR NOW has 5 votes, AMELIA LOST has 5 votes, and A MONSTER CALLS has 5 votes. Now it’s more of a horse race. Now “liking” a book isn’t going to be enough to convince votes from the other two books to move over. Now we really have to look for objective points to convince people. If I’m a fan of the other two books, why should I care that OKAY FOR NOW has the highest highs when it also has that train wreck of an ending?

  18. Mr. H says:

    Comparing the improbabilities in WONDERSTRUCK and OKAY FOR NOW has an added wrinkle that you do not bring up Jonathan, and that is that half of WONDERSTRUCK’s “plot” unfolds through tons of illustrations.

    I’m wondering how you can pinpoint cliffhangers at the end of chapters as elements of “distinguished plot” when those cliffhangers entice the reader to turn the page and continue the story in illustrations. Looking at the plot “holistically” as you mention when talking about “improbabilities”, I think the bouncing from text to picture throughout the entire book makes arguing for the “text” portion of the plot very difficult.

    You even mentioned the “pacing” of the story adding to the distinguished element of plot and acknowledged the fact that this is aided by the two different mediums. To me, that doesn’t belong in a Newbery discussion. I could take the argument that WONDERSTRUCK is a distinguished “holistic” product, but when specifically focusing on the text of the book, and the story, I find it difficult to keep discussions in the realm of the Newbery criteria.

    To me, the illustration thing really makes WONDERSTRUCK a whole different ball of yarn than OKAY FOR NOW. Add to it, the improbabilities that Wendy and others brought up, and I think that’s what makes some willing to forgive OKAY FOR NOW and not WONDERSTRUCK. Maybe.

    But we don’t need to get into the whole picture thing again! Sorry that I even brought it up! :)

  19. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Yeah, I don’t want to get into the pictures vs. text thing, at least not here, but let’s say you’ve convinced me that plotting and characterization in WONDERSTRUCK are problematic enough to pull it off the table. Wouldn’t you also have to concede that OKAY FOR NOW has problems, too? Probably not enough to pull it off the table, but enough to pull it back into the middle of the pack? What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. I just don’t see how you can argue against the one without also arguing against the other.

    When I pass the Medal and Honors out I want to feel like each of these writers had full and total control over their material. There can be flaws, but they should be minor. With OKAY FOR NOW I don’t feel that control. I don’t feel like I am in the hands of a master storyteller in those final chapters, so it dampens my enthusiasm for the Medal. I won’t be surprised or disappointed with the Medal, but the same holds true for a shut out. I guess I’m with Dean in predicting it to be an Honor book.

  20. Mr. H says:

    Which leads us to . . . what rises to the pack? Are you beginning to think, like myself, that the winner may come totally out of left field?

  21. Mr. H says:

    That was meant to read ‘to the TOP OF the pack’ . . . Not just ‘to the pack’. Jeesh.

  22. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Having predicted OKAY FOR NOW as an Honor book because I think other books are holistically more distinguished, I’m not sure that consensus can necessarily be built around them any easier than it can be built around OKAY FOR NOW. I’m not sure what you mean by out of left field. Was MOON OVER MANIFEST out of left field? It had three starred reviews, and one best of the year list, despite being a debut novel and coming out late in the year. We did mention it here; we just didn’t discuss it in depth. I think there’s a good chance that the Medal winner is among the titles I listed in the Best Books Overlap post. Recent Medal winner with best books overlap: WHEN YOU REACH ME, THE GRAVEYARD BOOK, GOOD MASTERS, CRISS CROSS. And without: MOON OVER MANIFEST, THE HIGHER POWER OF LUCKY, KIRA-KIRA. So maybe slightly better than a 50-50 chance.

  23. Brandy says:

    I had a wonderful reading experience the first time I read Okay For Now. I love Doug and I love his voice. When I wrote my original review I mentioned that I had not been so excited to have a character’s voice inside my head since the first time I read The Thief. (This is a big deal for me.) If you had asked me after that first reading I would have said this book had better win or I’m going to be fuming mad. However, after a reread I’m not as vehement about it. I still love the book and I find it to be the most distinguished I have read in terms of character of the year. However, the second time I couldn’t skip over the flaws in the plotting of those last chapters as easily. Particularly the whole Broadway thing, which I felt did nothing to improve the characterization (the book’s greatest strength) and only made it all a little too much. Jonathan said, “There can be flaws, but they should be minor. With OKAY FOR NOW I don’t feel that control, I don’t feel like I am in the hands of a master storyteller in those final chapters, so it dampens my enthusiasm for the Medal.” I really agree with this. I would love to see it awarded an honor, but I will also understand how the committee could possibly come to a decision to not award it anything at all.

    Of the books on the shortlist it is still in my top two, but it is very much my second choice.

  24. Schmidt can’t handle endings? I beg to differ. Look at Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy.

  25. Nina Lindsay says:

    Yes…I’m finding this thread of comments more and more interesting everytime I go back to it. For me, it never was the ending that was the issue, and in fact, I feel like the ending is how he earns everything that came before. Schmidt does prepare us, from page one with Doug’s voice, for implausibility and melodrama. As it started to pile on *towards* the end I got frustrated, but with the *very* end he takes his hyperbolic arc to all the way to extreme (straight up and out of the park) and so I’m willing to hand it to him. It’s the rattly ride up (anyone here riden the Big Dipper at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk?) that I’m not so sure about.

  26. Laurie, you are so right about LIZZIE BRIGHT. I wonder (and this again is not something I’d be able to say at the actual Newbery meeting) if Schmidt is purposely repeating certain tropes (the non-naming of the sibling, the “out of the park” ending) in his books set in this time and place and that we will see him use them again in another book or two in the future. Be interesting to see that in addition to some of the same characters.

  27. I think you’re on to something, Monica. His larger-than-life stories are getting larger-than-life endings. In LIZZIE BRIGHT there’s no happy ending–only moving past tragedy and a more mature understanding of life. I enjoyed both Wednesday Wars and Okay for Now, but I think LIZZIE is a masterpiece.

  28. Mark Flowers says:

    I had been very convinced by the discussion of OKAY FOR NOW’s flaws of plausibility . . . until I reread it just now. It seemed to me that many of the supposed implausibilities (especially regarding characters changing) came entirely from Doug’s status as an unreliable narrator:

    1) The Coach. As I reread I noticed that my negative feelings about the Coach came *almost* entirely from Doug’s negative attitude about him. He does do a couple of shady things (basically making fun of Doug over the tattoo) but they didn’t seem like the acts of an evil man, just a hardass gym teacher dealing with a student who from the outside looks like a smartass slacker. When Doug opens up to him and offers to help with stats and talks about his brother’s vietnam experience, he realizes that Doug has more to him. Simple as that..

    2) Principal. Almost the same thing–the principal says some pretty mean things, seems like someone I wouldn’t like very much, but then, he doesn’t actually change much at the end. Really all he does is honor the bet he made to Doug. Then he says a couple of nice things, which seems to be because he is stunned at how completely wrong he was about Doug’s brother.

    3) Doug’s father. Based on the comments made on some of these posts, I had misremembered the father’s “transformation” as much more than it actually was. I thought maybe he gave up drinking or something. All he does is a) give Doug back the Joe Pepitone jacket (but not, you will note the $100), and b) tell the police about Ernie Eco being the thief. Both of these events seem clearly foreshadowed in his character – through the second half of the book he is increasingly removed from the family in a way that Doug doesn’t understand (but I did) as the result of increasing guilt. After all, no matter how bad he is, he doesn’t really want his son to go to jail for something his friend did, does he?

    So, in sum – it seems like a combination of Doug’s undervaluation of these character and the reader’s overvalution of their changes (especially since they all come at once) trick us into thinking more has changed more implausibly than it actually has.

    I am still troubled by the implausibility of the whole Broadway play scenario, but I feel like that is much more a question of simple suspension of disbelief, vs. the much more serious charges of unrealistic character arcs. So – I’m back on board the OFN bandwagon, putting it in my top 3.

  29. Sheila Kelly Welch says:

    Ah! I agree with Mark although I tend to think a lot of what “happens” in Doug’s tale could be (is?) his wishful thinking. This is totally his story; we see everything through his eyes.

    As I said before, Doug is an unreliable narrator, telling what I think is a tall tale. Even the constant repetitions give a storyteller’s feel to the book. His voice is that of a storyteller, and he wants his listeners to believe his story. He has the advantage that most readers want the bad things in his life to change. So they are willing to believe.

    The ending is what all that fabrication is leading up to. Connor in A MONSTER CALLS can’t change the ending of his story and faces the truth, while Doug actually tells the truth (almost) about what’s happening with Lil. In MONSTER readers see a clear line between reality and fantasy with the classic “trick” of some overlap in the form of real leaves, berries, saplings. In OFN, Doug’s real world feels true but slips into fantasy without a lot of obvious warning signs.

    Despite not liking the book very much, I have to give Schmidt credit. I just don’t think any good author would write a story with so many, as I call them, glitches, unless he did it intentionally.

  30. Jonathan Hunt says:

    But the characterization of the father, the principal, and the coach are only some of the problems people mentioned with the ending: Joe Pepitone being in two places at once, the whole improbability of the Broadway play subplot, the on-the-the-spot job for the brother, the brother climbing the stairs, not to mention how all these elements affect the pacing of the novel. I never thought there was any one thing that damned this novel, but rather lots of little things that added up to the fact that the story is out of control. As a committee we cannot be concerned with whether Schmidt did them intentionally because then you can ultimately make the argument that any flaw in any book by a good writer was intentional. I still need to reread this one myself, and so maybe I will likewise change my tune, but even if I don’t change my views, I still hold it in high esteem. I’m just not committed to giving it the Medal. Yet.

  31. Mark Flowers says:

    @ Jonathan – definitely. I didn’t mean to suggest that those characterizations were the only problems that had been brought up, but for me at least, they were the most serious, so I was interested/relieved to see on a second read that (again for me) they weren’t even “problems” to be outweighed, but totally consistent with the book. I think it’s really important if we’re going to discuss the highs vs the lows that we all know what lows we’re talking about. I think even if one disagrees with my interpretations, at least it should be noted that these are questions of critical analysis – not outright poor writing.

    As for the other problems you mention, I think at least two fall into the same category of nonproblems (although Wendy, for one, will disagree with me:

    1) Joe Pepitone. In my reading, he’s a character in a counterfactual fiction. Schmidt can make him say whatever and be wherever he needs him.

    2) the hiring of Lucas. I think there’s just way too much we *don’t* know (again being locked in Doug’s POV) to seriously see this as a problem — eg, who has the final hiring authority at the school (principal, school board, someone else?), has the coach already talked to that authority? If not, could he do so between the offer and Lucas’s first day? etc etc.

    My point is that the characterizations were not “little things” at all, while the above two might just make the cut. That leaves the Broadway subplot and the brother climbing the stairs. The brother climbing the stairs is far too small an event (in terms of the total length of the novel) to factor for me. And I’ve already expressed that the Broadway subplot remains troubling for me.

    So ultimately, in my assessment, you have a couple-three small-ish implausibilities, and one relatively major one. The way I read the book that isn’t nearly enough to sink it when compared with the major achievements of character, setting, and pure prose style which for me are (together) far greater than any of the middle grade novels I’ve read this year. As I said over on the other post, I still rank it below Amelia Lost, but just barely.

  32. Jonathan Hunt says:

    I think we’re very close in our assessment of the book and how it stands compared to the rest of the field. I read it about a year ago and look forward to rereading it very soon. The biggest problem that I had with it way back then was the pacing, and then people started raising all of these other concerns, some of which I think are valid, and some are not. Aside from plausibility, I question whether the Broadway subplot dilutes or muddies the thematic focus on the Audubon paintings (not to mention the fact that it seems like another recycled plot element from WEDNESDAY WARS). Holling likes theater; Doug likes art. No, Doug likes theater *and* art. To me, it harkens back to that Kenneth Oppel quote about the sequel trap of bigger explosions, more villains, bigger car chases equaling a better story.

  33. Wendy says:

    Hey, Mark, why me? I actually don’t care about Lucas’s hiring, or about the stairs thing; that’s the kind of stretching the boundaries of reality we see in fiction all the time, and as long as the plot doesn’t hang on something that doesn’t feel right, it doesn’t bother me.

    I also don’t have a particular issue with Joe Pepitone being at the play when historically he was at a ball game (that’s what we’re talking about, right?). I agree with you, he’s used fictionally. I mean, even if there WEREN’T a scheduled game that night, we could be 100% certain he wasn’t at a performance of Jane Eyre anyway, because it didn’t exist. It bugs me a little more that apparently the real Joe Pepitone wasn’t the kind of person to go around attending highbrow Broadway musicals, but that, too, isn’t a big deal. Celebrities do all kinds of stuff. No, the Joe Pepitone issue that bothers me, and it bothered me a lot, was that he recognized Doug’s name in the program and then recognized his face later. That was just silly, and took me out of the reality of Doug’s story as much as (perhaps more than) the rest of the Broadway subplot.

  34. Genevieve says:

    I don’t think that Doug likes theater, in and of itself. What he does like is the story of Jane Eyre, at least the childhood part — a girl who was bullied and tormented by her family and her teachers, and felt like she had no one on her side until she met one friend. No huge surprise that he could empathize with that (it surprised him that such a story was there hidden under the fancy language). But he was pressured into getting Lil to take the part, and he never intended to be acting. Once he had to go on, he was able to do it by using empathy to feel what the character felt (much what he himself had felt in dealing with his teachers). And that empathy is what he developed through close views of the Audobon paintings — for example, he used to be glad when his bullying brother got hit, but now he saw his brother’s “terrified eye” that made him think of one of the paintings. The expressiveness of the paintings led him to think what it was like to be another creature in pain (and later, other emotions), and then he began thinking of those expressions in people around him.

  35. Nina Lindsay says:

    Wendy, I don’t have my copy on me so maybe i’m missing something, but I didn’t think that Pepitone recognized Doug’s name to connect him with their earlier meeting. He just liked his performance ( which is a different implausibility, but easier to swallow.) Thus his blank face when Doug says ” Thanks… for everything”. Right?…..

  36. Mark Flowers says:

    @ Wendy – sorry, I thought I remembered you being much more negative about the Joe Pepitone plot line (way too many comments to wade through to check up on that ;) My apologies.

    @ Nina – Wendy is correct, Joe Pepitone claims to have recognized Doug’s name, which I too found implausible – although I suppose if I were willing to argue about it I could question whether or not someone might have prompted Joe prior to talking to Doug.

  37. Mr. H says:

    Nope, Joe Pepitone remembers Doug. Don’t remember if it’s the name in the program or seeing him backstage or both exactly. But he definitely remembers him. He comes backstage after the performance and says such. Doug is shocked and awed that someone like Joe Pepitone would remember playing catch with someone like Doug.

    And in defense of Joe Pepitone attending a Broadway musical, 1969 was Pepitone’s last season with the Yankees and he didn’t leave on good terms. His final few seasons with the Yankees spiraled downhill. Perhaps some soul searching and attending a Broadway musical and connecting with a random fan here and there, isn’t that much out of character for the guy . . .

  38. Genevieve says:

    Mark’s interpretation makes so much sense to me, re the characters of the gym teacher, the principal, and Doug’s father. I had noticed the small signs pointing that the father was (when away from Ernie Eco) starting to regret some things he had done or not reported, and also that his “transformation” was more like a first couple of steps, but it had seemed like the coach and principal turned around without as much warning — looking at it through Mark’s sensible view makes that part work better for me.

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