Okay For Now by Gary D. Schmidt

The children and I had hardly finished listening to The Wednesday Wars. The tears were still fresh in my eyes, as was the echo of my son’s astounded question: “Ima, are you crying?!” I needed a moment to breathe, to recuperate, to taste fully of the enchantment of the book. But the children were adamant. We’re starting the next book, right now.

Since we loved The Wednesday Wars so much, our next choice was obvious. Okay For Now is by the same author and continues the story through the eyes of Doug Sweiteck, one of Holling’s friends. At first, however, perhaps because of how emotional I had gotten when finishing The Wednesday Wars, I had a hard time getting into Okay For Now. I didn’t like Doug’s voice. I didn’t like his family. I didn’t like that they were moving away. I didn’t like that Doug kept saying “stupid” about everything.

Doug, however, won me over. This sad kid, who tries so hard to act tough and not to look like a chump, is actually an endearing, smart boy who gently and quietly refuses to accept the labels put on him by most everyone in his new town. No matter how much Doug pretends to believe that things can’t get better, or that the people around him tell him he is bound never to succeed, an invincible streak of hope runs through him. He is willing to work hard, to try again and again, to put himself out there even in front of his Vietnam veteran PE coach and his condescending principal and carve out his own terrific and creative way in the world.

Okay For Now
is a very different book from The Wednesday Wars. Where Holling notices every little detail about the world, the war, his teachers, friends, and family, Doug’s world is an intimate one, and his skin is so fragile that everything touches a raw nerve. The Vietnam war enters into the story through Doug’s badly-wounded brother who Doug admires and yet from whom he yearns to be different. The town’s policeman and his many children, the grocer, the town’s biggest employer, the librarians, the teachers, the famous playwright who lives isolated at the edge of town, and Doug’s family members — they all come to life through Doug’s interactions with them.

A boy Doug’s age would be fifty eight today, and I know it is silly to worry about a kid who not only is a character in a book, but would also be older than me if he really lived. But I can’t help myself. I want to know that Doug is okay. Not just for the now of the book, but for always. I hope he grew up to continue to do well at school. That he became an artist. That he married his childhood sweetheart and had five kids of his own. And I realize why it is I loved Doug so much. It is because his character’s defining quality is forgiveness. Doug gives everyone, and most especially himself, a chance. Not just a second chance or a third chance, but as many chances as they need. And so Doug gets a chance, and being Doug, good natured, intelligent, open-hearted and hopeful, he always makes the very best out of it.

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