Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt

Reviewed by Jamie Mayo

I listened to Okay for Now in preparation for the Kansas City Mock Awards, a tradition among librarians here (and all over the country) to make our best guesses as to what the Newbery Award committee will choose as the winner for 2012.

Our Mock Awards will be held this week, a couple of weeks before the actual awards will be announced at the American Library Association’s Conference in Dallas.

Since I have a tendency to listen to one book while reading another in print, I sometimes get them a bit scrambled up—and interestingly enough, there is often some tie-in. As I was listening to this, I was reading the print version of Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King, which is one of my top contenders for the Printz, which is the Young Adult award equivalent to the Newbery. Both of these titles feature the Vietnam Conflict. Ants is set in contemporary times and focuses on a teen whose grandfather never made it back and was consequently declared POW/MIA (Prison of War/Missing in Action). He has had dreams of going into the jungle and rescuing his grandfather ever since his grandmother told him to on her deathbed. In juxtaposition, Okay for Now is set back in 1969. It tells the story of Doug—whose last name I cannot spell because I was listening and never saw it in print (and let me just say it's not Smith)—and his family. It begins as they are moving from Brooklyn to a small town in upstate New York after his father got fired from his job fro trying to punch the boss.

Doug’s Dad is a hard luck kind of guy who blames everyone else for his misfortunes and who beats up on his kids for, well, whatever. As the story unfolds, the family gets letters from someone they don’t know that Doug’s oldest brother will be returning from the war. The letters inform them that he won’t be exactly the same when they see him. Which is a bit of an understatement given that his head is wrapped in gauze to protect his eyes and both of his legs are missing.

This is the story of Doug’s struggle to not become like his father especially in the face of everyone’s expectation that he already is. It’s also the story of how art and a few people who really take the time to see you can change you. Doug becomes captivated by a book of paintings by Audubon and is appalled to find out that the library has been cutting pages out to sell. It becomes his goal to get them all back. Pick up a copy of Okay for Now to find out if he is successful.

Jamie Mayo is the Manager of Central Youth Services Department. She is currently reading like mad to finish up the books on the Kansas City Mock Awards lists before Tuesday.