A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
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.)
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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?