Okay for Now
Gary D. Schmidt
c/o Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
215 Park Ave. South, New York, NY 10003
9780547152608, $16.99, www.amazon.com
There's a lot going on in "OK for Now," the sequel to 2008's Newbery honoree "The Wednesday Wars."
Abuse, alcoholism, illiteracy, a disabled veteran, small town (in)justice and general adolescent angst and awakening all combine in the tale of Doug Swieteck, an eighth-grader whose deeply troubled family relocates to upstate New York in 1968.
Schmidt deftly pulls together all of those elements with the aid of some great literary juxtaposition, notably weaving in "Birds of America," a collection of drawings by legendary artist John James Audubon. Doug learns to draw by studying Audubon's art, and it becomes a metaphor for his life. One bird is crashing into the sea, another is against a stable backdrop, another is walking resolutely into the path of a hunter... as Doug studies the drawings one at a time, each in turn signifies another twist in his tumultuous path.
There are metaphorical allusions to baseball, the Apollo moon landing and Charlotte Bronte's "Jane Eyre." "There are some things in this world that we cannot fix, and they happen, and it is not our fault," a teacher notes as they discuss the classic novel ... and as the teacher becomes aware of the dark realities of Doug's homelife.
Schmidt ponders just deeply enough for middle school readers, offering things to weigh but not overreaching, to where kids glaze over.
He balances the tale's tersest points with equally as many warm moments, with caring people who see Doug through. Ditto with frequent humor, which pops up at the most needed moments and will keep readers plowing on through the tough subject matter.
And the conclusion is awash in loose ends; this doesn't appear to be Schmidt's last entre into Doug's life.
Masterfully knit ... . with a hero you can't help but cheer on.
Michael Northrop, author
557 Broadway, New York, NY 10012
9780545210126, $17.99, www.amazon.com
Seven teens find themselves stranded at school as the snowstorm of the century buries their region. The heat, cell phones and lights go out. They have a high school cafeteria kitchen full of canned pudding and sliced peaches...and each other.
Northrop could have gone the route of "The Breakfast Club," the 80s movie where five teens from different rungs of the social ladder, stuck in an all-day detention, come to deeply understand each other...