Terry's Reviews > Okay for Now

Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt
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's review
Nov 13, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: 2011-books, cdcs-young-adult

A compulsively readable mess--and I mean that in the best way possible. The big success of the novel is that Schmidt has a knack for narrative voice. Protagonist Doug is a strong, sympathetic underdog whose narration is pitch perfect. His toughness is refreshing, but it's Doug's honest emotional reactions and underlying issues (unspoiled by me) that ally the reader with him and almost make one forget the unbelievability of the plot. And therein lies the big problem of the novel--there's just too much to the plot and too much that strains credulity. The novel falls into the slice-of-life trap of not having enough structure; instead of really building, the novel climaxes several times, only to move on to a new, even more unbelievable conflict each time. By the time the novel gets to Broadway, I had completely given up on thinking of the world of the novel as real.

Because of the ever-twisting plot, the characters are also jerked around and seem to come and go at the author's whim. It feels like a juggling act that Schmidt almost has down--just as I was wondering where a character had disappeared off to, he or she would coincidentally reappear. But the real problem with the characters is not their number (there are at least 10 major characters fighting for page space) nor their random entrances and exits, but that everyone in Schmidt's world turns out to be a nice guy at heart. No matter how terrible he is in the moment, or how many terrible acts he commits. While the reader wants several characters to get their comeuppance, instead Schmidt goes for forgiveness. A nice sentiment, but it robs the novel of a true villain, and unlike, say, Catcher in the Rye, the protagonist in Okay for Now is truly noble, and almost saintly by the end. Without a villain, the situations in the novel lack weight, and turn awkwardly sentimental.

That's a lot of criticism for a 4-star rated novel. But, Okay for Now is a page-turner, with a perfectly-conceived narrator. The emotional punches delivered by the narrator almost made me forget that I wasn't really believing a word. In the end, it's like Stieg Larrson's Millennium trilogy--great protagonist, page-turning writing, and a plot you really want to believe, even though at heart you know it's false--and sometimes that's enough. For the record, I'd put my money on it to win the National Book award, and I'd recommend it to anyone looking for some pleasant escapism.

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