Okay for Now

Book review by
Sally Engelfried, Common Sense Media
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Popular with kidsParents recommend
A troubled boy discovers his self-worth through art.

Parents say

age 12+
Based on 6 reviews

Kids say

age 12+
Based on 15 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Each chapter opens with an image of one of John James Audubon's bird paintings, and as Doug learns to draw and paint, Audubon's artwork is described and analyzed closely. Doug's science teacher discusses the first lunar landing and the space missions that led up to it. Doug studies the novel Jane Eyre in school and comes to the conclusion that it's not such a bad book after all. The Vietnam War serves as a backdrop for the story, making clear its impact on veterans and other citizens.

Positive Messages

Doug's optimism in the face of adversity is amazing, as is his positive transformation over the course of the novel. He learns that he can rise above his reputation as a thug by being consistently kind and helpful. When he helps the librarian retrieve some lost drawings, he discovers that the joy of giving can outweigh receiving. With the help of a teacher, Doug overcomes his illiteracy.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Though his older brother Lucas constantly ridicules him, Doug still helps him find a job, even when Lucas is ready to give up. Doug tries to stay out of trouble at school even when he is unfairly treated by teachers and the principal. Doug's friend Lil encourages his artistic efforts and supports his efforts to get along in school. The librarian gives Doug drawing lessons out of the goodness of his heart, and some of the kids at school stand up for Doug when they feel he has been unjustly punished.


Doug's father is physically abusive to him, his brothers, and his mother. This is mostly alluded to rather than described graphically, except for one scene in which Doug describes his father forcing him to get a large, painful, and humiliating tattoo on his chest. Doug's father and brothers are also verbally abusive to Doug and to each other.


Doug's girlfriend, Lil, kisses him on the cheek.


Doug and Lil drink a lot of Cokes.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Doug's father and his pal are probably alcoholics and spend most of their free time at the local bar.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this novel, set in 1968, deals with parental alcoholism, domestic violence, bullying, disrespecting teachers, petty crimes, and poverty. Eighth-grade protagonist/narrator Doug makes many bad choices, such as mistreating friends, cutting school, back-talking the school principal, and getting into fights. However, he strives to overcome his faults and difficulties and shows great strength of character. (Doug was a secondary character from Gary D. Schmidt's Newbery Honor-winning Wednesday Wars, though it's not necessary to have read that novel to follow this one.)

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written bySusan J. August 11, 2016


It was really repetitive and not a very good read. I suggest another book other than this one
Adult Written byCollegiateGirl July 9, 2013

A Powerful, Deeply-Moving PG-rated Read

• This book, although it deals with some hard things, is very beautifully and tastefully written. One example is that Doug mentions that his father has "qu... Continue reading
Teen, 16 years old Written bydanya t November 8, 2014

Not very good

I read this book for school one time and I had a lot of trouble getting through it. It is a VERY slow start and doesn't have a real climax...it is pretty f... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byarctictern December 17, 2020

I can't explain how beautiful this book is.

This book is probably one of the best fictional stories of all time, and that is not an exaggeration. It was so beautiful, and it made you feel like crying in a... Continue reading

What's the story?

It's 1968 during the height of the Vietnam War, with the first lunar landing on the horizon. When eighth grader Doug Swietek (who was a secondary character in author Gary D. Schmidt's Newbery Honor-winning Wednesday Wars) and his family move to a small town in upstate New York after his bad-tempered father loses his job, Doug immediately dubs the town "stupid." After he meets local girl Lil, everything changes. Lil challenges him to prove he is not the "skinny thug" everyone assumes he is. Following her into the library, he finds the works of Audubon on display and befriends a librarian, who coaxes him to try drawing. Doug's artistic efforts parallel his struggles to fit into the town and rise above the preconceptions people have about his family. When Doug says, about the first Audubon painting he sees, "This bird was falling and there wasn't a single thing in the world that cared at all," it's clear he's talking about himself as much as he is the Arctic tern. Doug's journey to self-acceptance isn't a straight one, and several times he proves his theory that "when things start to go pretty good, something usually happens to turn everything bad," but readers will root for him even when he stops rooting for himself.

Is it any good?

OKAY FOR NOW is a powerful story of self-discovery and transformation effectively told in the strong, distinctive voice of its young protagonist. Doug is a likable and complex character whose conversational, often sarcastic tone belies his sensitivity. Readers will need to look beyond the words on the page to understand Doug’s real feelings -- when he states that only "chumps" draw, it's clear that he wants nothing more than to hold a pencil in his hands and capture the images he finds so beautiful. The complexity of his emotions gives Doug an engaging depth, and makes it all the more moving when he is finally able to admit how much he cares for his friends, his family, and his art.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how seeing the works of Audubon in the library affected Doug. Can art transform a person? How does the feeling Doug gets when he sees Audubon's paintings change the way he behaves?

  • When Doug's brother Lucas returns from Vietnam disabled, how does Doug help him? How does that end up helping Doug himself?

  • Why does Doug state so vehemently that he would never go to the library to "read books or anything"? What changes his attitude about reading?

Book details

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