Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine.
When Dad loses his job, almost-eighth-grader Doug Swieteck and his family move upstate to Marysville, New York. Doug lives with his parents and older brother Christopher. His oldest brother, Lucas, fights in the Vietnam War.
Dad emotionally and physically abuses the rest of the family and drinks a lot with his devious friend, Ernie Eco. Christopher vents his hostility by beating up on Doug. He also steals Doug’s prized baseball cap, which was given to him by New York Yankee Joe Pepitone. Before Doug moves, his best friend gives him the jacket Joe Pepitone gave him the day Doug got the cap. Doug keeps the treasured jacket hidden from his family. Doug adores his mother, who maintains a beautiful smile despite her circumstances.
In Marysville, Doug meets a feisty girl his age named Lil Spicer. She introduces him to the Marysville Public Library, where he discovers a rare book of Audubon’s artwork. Encased in glass, it is open to a picture of an arctic tern. Doug is amazed by the way the artist depicts movement.
Doug comes back to look at it several times, and a staff member named Mr. Powell helps Doug learn to sketch it. Doug discovers he enjoys sketching and has some artistic talent. When new Audubon pictures go on display, Mr. Powell helps him sketch them, too. Mr. Powell tells him the town is cutting pages from this priceless book and selling the Audubon prints to pay their debts. Doug is shocked and decides he’ll find a way to restore the collection.
Lil’s father runs a deli and gives Doug a delivery job on Saturdays. Dad takes all the money he earns, but Doug secretly keeps his tips. He meets interesting neighbors, like the eccentric playwright Mrs. Windermere. When the deli gets robbed, Christopher is a prime suspect.
Doug starts school and is considered a thug by association. His sarcastic comments to staff members solidify his reputation. The family receives word that Lucas is coming home. The letter warns that he looks a little different than before.
Doug’s science teacher, Mr. Ferris, provides a safe place for the boy. He vows not to judge him based on his brother’s reputation. When Mr. Ferris discovers Doug can’t read, he discreetly arranges for the English teacher to provide some extra help. She makes Doug read Jane Eyre against his wishes, but he concludes it’s not a bad story. When he mentions it to Mrs. Windermere, she decides to write a Broadway stage adaptation.
Doug continues to clash with other teachers, such as Coach Reed. The coach accidentally rips Doug’s shirt in class, revealing to all that Doug has a tattoo that says “Mama’s Baby.” Doug’s narrative reveals how his drunken father forced him to get it on his 12th birthday. The humiliation brings back painful memories and results in Doug getting into a number of fights at school.
Dad takes the family to the Ballard Paper Mill company picnic, when one of the prizes for a trivia contest is a ball signed by Babe Ruth. Doug is surprised by the wonderful event, during which the employees’ children receive nice watches.
An older man invites Doug to be his partner for the trivia contest, and Doug’s knowledge helps them win. He learns his partner was Mr. Ballard himself, and the man invites Doug to his office the following week to pick up his prizes. When Doug does visit, he learns Ballard gave the ball and prize money to Dad.
Doug knows he’ll never see the items now, but he pretends Dad gave them to him. Mr. Ballard and Doug play horseshoes, and Doug notices one of the Audubon prints in Ballard’s office. When Doug says he thinks the picture should go back in the library book, Ballard gives it to him.
Lucas returns from war. His eyes are covered with bandages, and both legs are missing. He wallows in self-pity until Doug and Christopher encourage him to move forward. He begins to look for jobs and is often rejected. War protestors even tell him he deserves the injuries he received for participating in combat.
Doug finds Coach Reed’s journal, and there are sketches in it. He discovers Reed is a Vietnam vet as well. They begin to talk, and Reed agrees to help Lucas. He eventually offers him an assistant coaching job. Lucas regains his dignity and joy.
Doug continues in his efforts to restore the Audubon collection by bargaining for the prints. Mrs. Windermere’s production of Jane Eyre goes to Broadway, and she casts Lil in one of the roles. Doug practices with her constantly. When Lil is hospitalized just before a performance, Doug is the only one who knows the part. Mrs. Windermere agrees to return her portion of the Audubon collection if he will dress as a girl and play the role. Despite his nervousness, particularly when he sees Joe Pepitone in the audience, Doug gives a stellar performance. He even gets to talk to his hero afterward.
Lil’s illness is serious, and she remains in the hospital. Doug visits often. Just before the trial for Christopher’s robbery, police come to the Swieteck home. They say they’ve received an anonymous tip, and Christopher is no longer a suspect. The narrative hints that Doug’s repentant father has informed authorities about his friend, Ernie Eco.
Dad and Mom talk for a long time, and it appears he genuinely wants to change as a husband and father. Doug manages to get all but one Audubon print returned to the collection. He puts his own sketch in place of the one that’s missing. Lil remains very sick. But as she and Doug watch the moon landing on the hospital TV, they remain hopeful for the future.
Mrs. Windermere says creativity is a god who only comes around when he feels like it.
Doug’s father steals from and abuses family members and frequently goes out drinking with his buddy. Mom tries to maintain a positive attitude, despite her burden to hold the family together. Adults like Mr. Ferris, Mr. Powell, Mr. Ballard, Coach Reed and Doug’s English teacher encourage Doug to draw, read, think and use his gifts.
Dad often uses the word freaking. He comes home drunk on Doug’s 12th birthday and forces him to get a flowery tattoo that says “Mama’s Baby.” Dad holds him down during the process, even though it hurts and Doug is crying. Afterward, Doug tries to scratch it off until it bleeds.
Doug kisses Lil after they play horseshoes together. He lies next to her in her hospital bed a few times to offer comfort.
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