Having just finished Brian Castner’s The Long Walk – a memoir of the Iraq war and most definitely not for middle grade readers, though teens could take a crack at it – I find myself remembering another book about war, Okay for Now.
Gary D. Schmidt has written a remarkable coming-of-age novel. Doug Swieteck may only be reaching his teens, but by the novel’s end, he has left the young boy he was behind. Poignant, funny, and richly told in a memorable voice, Okay for Now traces Doug’s journey as he learns to navigate his new life in a small upstate New York Town in the late 60’s and early 70’s.
Doug isn’t a thug, though everyone believes him one at first. Despised by his father for a leaning toward the artistic and a compassion for the beautiful and fragile in his world – including his mother – Doug aches to put things right, from his family to a damaged book of Audubon prints. While trying his best, Doug makes new friends and negotiates relationships with those he perceives as enemies, suffering setbacks time and again during a series of thefts in the small town, thefts that are believed to be the work of his elder brother. Yet Doug perseveres, in the helping not only himself, but his eldest brother home injured from the Vietnam War and many of the town’s residents – especially his first new friend.
While it’s hard to believe for those of us who are technically grownups, Schmidt’s book is solidly historical fiction. Anyone under 21 right now will have not trouble accepting this fact. For them, even more modern wars such as Bosnia and Afghanistan are history, while the morass that is the Middle East is scarcely perceived as war. Unless it’s your dad or mom or brother or sister who is “over there” on a tour of duty.
Okay for Now isn’t the kind of book meant for kids in that situation. But it reminds us all that war can be survived and that the conflicts we experience each day can feel like wars within ourselves – at any age.