Tuesday, June 7, 2011
Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt : Audio Book Week Review
You know: You listened to an audio while you read the text version of a book, alternating between the text and the audio? My first 'tandem read' was Rohinton Mistry's A Fine Balance, and I've used the tandem read strategy as a regular practice ever since, especially when devouring young adult books. However you might have answered this question though, I suggest it's time to try the audio/text strategy (again?) with Okay For Now by Gary D. Schmidt, performed by Lincoln Hoppe.
This new novel from Newbery and Printz honor winner Gary Schmidt balances intense pathos with light, easygoing humor, sympathetic and original characters, important and serious issues, and well-integrated symbolism to produce what, in the end, is an exceptional YA/middle-reader fiction.
To sum up: We follow the beleaguered almost-eighth-grader Doug Swieteck as his abusive father packs him up, along with his bullying older brother Christopher and their passive, long-suffering mom, and moves them from populous Long Island to small-town "Marysville" in upstate New York. To find out how Doug - a minor character in Schmidt's award-winning The Wednesday Wars - copes imperfectly but admirably with the effects of his dad's abuse (and I've rarely felt the sort of rage Schmidt evokes through this adult antagonist's habitual sociopathic verbal abuse and horrible misuses of parental authority, not to mention his "quick hands") and the trials of weaving a new web of relationships in a small town summer, all without the aid of his idol, baseball great Joe Pepitone, is the reason we take this journey. And a rewarding one it is. (And what an wonderfully sonorous name to provoke a smile every time you say it: Joe Pepitone. Go ahead: give it a go; you'll see. I actually had to check that he was a real Yankee and is a real person!)
I don't want to give away too much more of the plot in this period piece (set in the Vietnam War era) and coming-of-age tale, except to say that Doug's development as he becomes an artist and a young adult while earning the respect of this small community is both heartening and richly rewarding. And did I mention that a series of Audubon prints focus both the narrative and much of its symbolic/thematic resonance? Schmidt's work here is ambitious for a middle-reader/young adult novel, and - in my opinion - he succeeds in crafting a novel well out of the ordinary.
But I'll say this: After reading about a third of the book, I considered putting it down. And then the audio CDs came in at the library, and once I could hear the rhythms of Doug's language through the adult performer Lincoln Hoppe's interpretation, I got inspired to keep reading. In this case, it's vital to have the text in hand though, as each chapter is focused by an Audubon print that's pivotal to understanding some of the content and certainly the thematic resonances of the chapter.
Who'd Enjoy This Especially:
Coming of Age novel fans, baseball lovers, folks who enjoy a strong, unique voice in first person protagonists, bird lovers, visual artists, middle- and high- school teachers looking for 'the next great book' for struggling readers and/or boys who just aren't that into reading, and young people wondering about what it's like to grow up with an abusive parent or to grow up in the Vietnam War era.
Action: I'm following in Dougie's footsteps by copying an Audubon print (way, way imperfectly, I'm sure). Shout out to all the Action Readers getting their creative on this month! Join us if you wanna at actionreaders.com!
And a moment of gratitude: I want to thank the poet and children's book writer Irene Latham for recommending this book. When I saw her rave review, I immediately put both text and CDs on hold at the library. She's a fine writer in her own right (review of Leaving Gee's Bend here) and I trust her judgement. In this case, I'm so glad that I did.