Mock Newbery 2023 discussion

Book of the Month 2012 > July Read - Okay for Now

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message 1: by Kristen (new)

Kristen Jorgensen (sunnie) | 576 comments Mod
Okay for Now has already been heralded as the book that will claim the Newbery in 2012. Undoubtedly it is a strong contender, but is it "distinguished?"

message 2: by Ann (new)

Ann | 29 comments The pertinent criteria for this book are

Interpretation of the theme or concept
Development of a plot
Delineation of characters
Delineation of a setting
Appropriateness of style.

I think the style and writing were phenomenal, easily Newbery-worthy. The development of a setting was well done - I clearly felt the time and place of the book. The character development was mostly well done - I didn't quite believe the turnaround for the father in the last act. It sort of felt like it came out of nowhere, but I guess I can see some very subtle indications that the father was starting to be uncomfortable with his friend, but the father has been presented as SUCH a jerk, and there are some implications that the friend has done this before and the father didn't care, that I didn't fully believe it.

Similarly I felt that the middle brother's redemption was a little too final. Most people don't act like jerks then suddenly become nice. Even when they're trying, they still slip up and act like jerks sometimes. When Doug is in trouble as a babysitter and desperate for someone to help, his first thought is really to get the brother he has despised for most of his life, who he has regarded as nothing more than a bully up until a month or so ago?

Where I really had trouble with the book was the plot. There were many points where the sheer unreality and unlikeliness of the plot pulled me out of the story. The baseball player remembers his one interaction with a random teenager so well that he recognizes the teenager on sight months later in a completely different context? I can kind of overlook the fact that two completely amateur kids ended up in the play, without having to audition, because I can write it off as the author pulling strings, but they have no understudies in a major Broadway production? I agree with another commenter in a different thread that Lil's illness felt like a plot device to get Doug onstage, rather than a devastating impact on his life. In some ways I felt like Schmidt was setting us up for the next book: now it's time for Lil's story! I also happen to find the "babysitter experiences a medical emergency and becomes a hero" trope incredibly tired, as well as somewhat unbelievable (I babysat for years and never had any problems with any of my charges). I don't have a copy of the book with me right now, but I don't think the little boy's asthma was mentioned any time previous to the sudden, out-of-the-blue emergency, either.

In conclusion, I loved, loved, loved the language and style of the book, I liked the message of redemption, but the plot just left me annoyed and cold.

message 3: by LauraW (new)

LauraW (lauralynnwalsh) | 108 comments I just finished the book last night. Normally, I try to finish my review of the book, before I read someone else's, but, since this book has also been talked about on Adbooks, and I had already seen this post, that is moot now.

I listened to the book on audio and, unlike the last book I listened to (Howl's Moving Castle), this one was easy to follow. I get a tiny bit annoyed with Lincoln Hoppe's readings at times, though. I am not sure why. His voice and reading are both fine. I guess I just get a bit tired of the sameness of the voice.

I agree with you about the plot. I was rooting for Doug all along, but some of the plot elements just worked out too smoothly. The babysitter emergency was also something I could have done without. (Echoes of Anne of Green Gables saving Diana's little sister). Lil's illness seemed like an addition that should have either had a much greater impact, or should have been left out entirely. There are other ways to get Doug on stage. An illness that severe shouldn't have been glossed over.

But, there are several things I especially enjoyed. I thought the introduction of Lil was great and I loved the art lessons in the library. I really enjoyed the old guy and the horseshoes.

But I think, overall, the plot suffers from what I have come to think of as "too-much-itis". Rather than dealing the everyday problems of life in a normal manner, the situations and problems have to be taken to the extreme. This is NOT confined to Gary Schmidt and his books; it seems to be pervasive in YA books now. E.g., rather than simply gaining the trust of the parents again through reading with their kids and taking care of them, there has to be an asthma emergency. Rather than old Mrs. Windermere writing a play for a local theater group, she has to be writing for Broadway. The side effect of "too-much-itis" is that, as in this book, the actual plot resolution then becomes too much, too - a little too good, a little too extreme.

message 4: by Holly (new)

Holly I love Okay for Now. It is refreshing (and believable) that Doug thinks like a kid. The story is entertaining as well as serious. I think this makes the book distinguished.

message 5: by Pam (new)

Pam | 22 comments LauraW wrote: "...the plot suffers from what I have come to think of as "too-much-itis"...The side effect of "too-much-itis" is that, as in this book, the actual plot resolution then becomes too much, too - a little too good, a little too extreme. "

What a great insight. I completely agree. With Okay for Now, Schmidt had all the right elements for a fantastic book, as did Draper's Out of My Mind. It sends the signal that kids can't be excited or interested in a book that doesn't involve the extremes.

message 6: by Kellee (new)

Kellee Moye (kelleemoye) I believe, based on the criteria for the Newbery, that this book has to be a front runner. Though the plot may have been optimistic, it had no holes and was beautifully written. Although Doug's life is better at the end, I don't think the resolution was too good. His dad is still an alcoholic and still probably abusive, he still has to deal with Lil's illness, and his brother is a injured war veteran. It ends showing that everything is just okay for now. I think we have to look at this book more so as a survival story. In all survival stories we want the protagonist to survive and in Okay for Now, Doug was able to survive.

message 7: by Lisa (new)

Lisa Nagel | 87 comments Kellee wrote: "I believe, based on the criteria for the Newbery, that this book has to be a front runner. Though the plot may have been optimistic, it had no holes and was beautifully written. Although Doug's l..."well said. I agree and think this was a beautifully written book.

message 8: by Ann (new)

Ann | 29 comments I agree that the book is about Doug being a survivor, but I think the extremist plot - the too-much-itist - actually takes away from the point of Doug as being "okay for now." The average kid that is struggling from day to day living with an unreliable parent, dealing with prejudice against his family, and trying to incorporate a newly injured brother rings wonderfully true to me...but then all this "I'm a Broadway star!" or "The CEO of the company somewhat inexplicably treats me like a son!" sort of runs it right off course. I think the book would've been stronger without the extreme plot points.

In fact, the more I think about this, the more I think the extremity of the plot undermines the core themes of the book (which is part of what needs to be distinguished to win the award.) For much of the book we see the impact of little things on Doug: how much it means to him when he causes the science teacher to rock his horse, or when the boys from his class go running with him, or his brother makes it up the library stairs. On the flip side we ache for him when his family is in disgrace and the writer no longer shares her ice cream or the family won't let him babysit. These incidents were far more powerful to me than some of the plot extremes. Think how mind-blowing it was when we finally learned the middle brother's name. So much of the book is built upon these little things, showing how agony and ecstasy don't require amazing feats, that it is in these small things - learning to draw, a teacher pretending she needs help with a reading curriculum - that lives can be saved. To also include the larger-than-life elements seems to dismiss the core concepts.

message 9: by LauraW (new)

LauraW (lauralynnwalsh) | 108 comments I would agree with Ann, that the "too-much-itis" actually undermines the core themes of the book. Those little quiet moments are what speak to me, too.

But lately, I have been wondering if this is a gender issue. Since I read Leonard Sax's book Why Gender Matters, I have been puzzling over male/female differences. I wonder if these larger-than-life elements are more welcomed by males - a sort of distancing from emotions to balance too much concentration on feelings.

OK, I know, a bit too psychological.

message 10: by Elisha (new)

Elisha Karr (elishakarr) I loved this book it had everything that you look for in a great read

message 11: by Jess (new)

Jess (jessmonster) | 80 comments I've been reading comments and trying to frame my defense of this book. It's one of those books where I loved it so much that it makes me inarticulate. I do admit that the plot could be thinned out, probably to the benefit of the overall plot. However, I felt that rest of the book - the characterizations, the setting, the language, themes, voice, etc. - were all so perfectly accomplished that the plot excesses don't matter. Yes, they stop the book from being perfect. But I haven't read any other middle grade novel this year that can touch it or even come close. I need to reread to get specific examples, since I listened to the audio version, but like Holden said, "I think it is more perfect than any other book I've read this year." (Although Amelia Lost was pretty excellent, too).

message 12: by Suzy (new)

Suzy (suzy_farmingdale) | 39 comments Apparently A Monster Calls is ineligible because it was not edited in the US, but it is, imho, a far better book than Okay for Now, as is Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos, and The Trouble with May Amelia by Jenni Holm. What is special about the characterizations in Okay for Now? The father, who arguably is the most important character in Doug's life, is a flat villain -- do we ever learn anything about why he is so evil to Doug? The principal and the playwright are cartoonish. The company owner is a stereotype. I'm also not sure there is anything special about the setting -- can you cite an example of what impressed you about the setting? I am actually from New York (although not upstate New York) and nothing about the town in the book felt particular to the area at all. Generic small town.

message 13: by Jess (new)

Jess (jessmonster) | 80 comments Again, I don't have the book in hand to cite specific examples, but I'd argue that the father isn't a flat villain. All of the the men in the family came across as people who were part of a cycle of violence and abuse - something that Doug often seems to learn towards himself, but he pulls away from. Thinking about the family in that context doesn't make the dad any less of a "bad guy" but it does add nuance to the story. I felt like Schmidt could tell the story of the father, if he wanted to, and the way the father grew up and ended up who he was. I sensed some guilt in the father, which also made him more of a round character.

As for Principal Peattie, I thought he was great comic relief - he wasn't the most well-rounded character, sure, but Doug and his family were and that's what mattered to me.

The setting impressed me because of the way Doug told us about it - going from describing the house as The Dump and hating the town, to feeling like it was his home. It wasn't that the setting was original - and I think Schimdt was going for generic small town - it was the way we saw it change through Doug's eyes.

I enjoyed The Trouble with May Amelia, too, but it didn't leave me with the same "wow" feeling that Okay for Now did.

message 14: by LauraW (new)

LauraW (lauralynnwalsh) | 108 comments I think Principal Peattie was great for comic relief, but I also think his characterization was a bit more subtle than that. I think Doug portrayed him as a comic stereotype, because he wanted to believe that he was one. It is easier to blame your problems on a one-dimensional person. If you get to know him better, then you have to understand him as a person and take into account his circumstances. Doug doesn't want to do that. It is almost as though he knows he is being unfair about his caricature, but he doesn't care, because it makes his own story better.

message 15: by Jess (new)

Jess (jessmonster) | 80 comments LauraW wrote: "I think Principal Peattie was great for comic relief, but I also think his characterization was a bit more subtle than that. I think Doug portrayed him as a comic stereotype, because he wanted to ..."

That's a good point - that Doug's choosing how to portray people. If other characters have hurt him in some way - the principal, his father, the middle brother - then Doug doesn't want us to feel for them, he wants us to feel for him.

message 16: by LauraW (new)

LauraW (lauralynnwalsh) | 108 comments Interestingly, I think Doug's portrayal of Principal Peattie is echoed in his father's portrayal of his (the father's) boss. His father blames a lot of his problems on the wrong person, the boss, choosing to see restrictions as assaults, rather than necessary norms for functioning in that environment.

message 17: by Aneeqah (new)

Aneeqah | 3 comments LauraW wrote: "Interestingly, I think Doug's portrayal of Principal Peattie is echoed in his father's portrayal of his (the father's) boss. His father blames a lot of his problems on the wrong person, the boss, ..."

I defiantly agree with this! It was like an echo of his father.

I just finished Okay for Now, and I really do agree that it could be a winner!

message 18: by Alyson (new)

Alyson Whatcott | 3 comments I loved this book, however, I also loved The Wednesday Wars, and the more I think about this book, the more it is a true companion book. Everything he does in this book he did in the last one: saving the name of a sibling until the end, having an adult mentor, monthly parallels with what he is learning and his life (Audubon and Shakespeare), small romance, family reconciliation, a part in a major play, his new town is "stupid"/ Holling's house is "perfecr", references to Major League baseball and Vietnam. It's almost the exact same plot with the same plot devices. However, I still loved it and read it in one sitting. My only complaint is I'm not sure how unique or original it is since he has already written a very similar story. It would still be nice to see Schmidt win the gold, though. I'm a big fan.

message 19: by Andrea (last edited Jul 27, 2011 10:18PM) (new)

Andrea (andreaburke) | 3 comments I agree with others that there is just too many unbelievable additions to the plot. It is a very similar formula that was used for the Wednesday Wars, too. Still, I loved the story. Doug kept me going to the very end, even though it became just too over the top at the end.

The librarians are heros and heroines! It is so good to read again the important harbor libraries create in communities. The role of birds and Audubon play a wonderful contrast to Doug's school life and his factory worker abusive father. There is so much truth for women in how plants and the nurturing of landscape mark his mother's letting ago of one place and acceptance into the new community. The brother who returns disabled grabs everyone in some way. There is so much in this story for anyone to love. But there are some obvious flaws that disqualify if for the "real" Newbery in my mind (Broadway, Lil's illness, the father's uncharacteristic sudden change). Still, worth reading, and more than once.

message 20: by Kristen (new)

Kristen Jorgensen (sunnie) | 576 comments Mod
I agree with so many of the comments that have been said about this book. Gary D. Schmidt's writing style is unique, and I really believe that a kid's thought pattern is like this. I loved how the author called him "skinny delivery boy," how Doug labeled people "good guy," and I especially appreciated the little things that one might think would be repetitious or annoying, such as "I'm not lying," but aren't.

I only had one complaint after finishing the story and it has been mentioned in previous comments. It truly bothers me that his dad is not a jerk in the last few pages. People don't usually change. Not that fast. Sure it can happen, but statistically it doesn't. Life doesn't always get solved in 360 pages or one school year.

Too-much-itis is a perfect description, along with a few similarities to his previous book. Yet it didn't seem to bother me.

With all that said I do believe Okay for Now is a strong Newbery contender.

message 21: by Stephanie (new)

Stephanie Sapp | 56 comments I finally had time to read Okay for Now and I loved it. I believe it is a strong contender for the Newbery but wonder if it might be better suited for the Printz award. I remember reading a review about the Wednesdays Wars that stated "this is the type of book that teachers WANT students to like". I wonder if this new book by Gary Schmidt has the same appreciation. It may be hard for some students to understand all of Doug's unbelievable hardships (Vietnam War, Slide projector pings). I had a hard time staying focused while reading the art lessons and fear students might also lose interest in those slow parts of the story.

message 22: by Holly (new)

Holly Mueller (hollymueller) | 25 comments I promptly rated this book with 5 stars and loved it. I think Doug's voice and characterization was brilliant and this book taught me a ton about how to give a 14-year-old with a chip on his shoulder a chance. I guess I can agree with a couple people who thought there were some extreme circumstances, and the dad did made a drastic turn around in the end, but those "flaws" don't take away from the amazing faith Schmidt has in humanity.

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