Sunday, June 10, 2012
Wow. I loved, loved, loved this book. I haven't read something this soul-touching in a while. It genuinely made me want to laugh and cry.
Despite the adversity of having an abusive and neglectful father and being the new kid at school, the book's protagonist, Doug Swieteck, almost always uses the power of positive thinking. Sure, he has his moments of lashing out and being skeptical of the kindness of strangers, but once he gets beyond that his eyes open to a world of endless possibilities. Doug is incredible as are the people like the librarian, Mr. Powell and the science teacher, Mr. Ferris who see his potential and nurture him in a way his family hasn't. It just goes to show how powerfully transformative an observant and caring adult can be to a troubled kid.
The arts play a really big role in Doug's awakening. Mr. Powell teaches him how to re-create Audubon's prints and in doing so, instills in him a keen eye and appreciation for the reliability of the lines. Doug learns so much more than how to draw. He learns how to be strong and persistent, much like his subjects. Mr. Ferris gets him excited about the imminent lunar landing and discovers that Doug is illiterate, something that no one ever took the time to notice or rectify. Once Doug's English teacher gets involved he reaches that next zenith. He's constantly moving toward something better. His journey is inspiring and contagious.
He helps his older brothers overcome their adversities. His middle brother, Chris, is plagued by a reputation that he's earned as a result of living under a roof with a jerk father. He's a bit of a delinquent but I believe that his observations of Doug help him to come out from under that cloud and change his course. His oldest brother, Lucas, returns home from the Vietnam War with permanent reminders of his efforts. He's understandably bitter about missing his legs but again, it's Doug that snaps him out of his oppressive state of self-pity and inspires him to start anew. Life won't be the same, but it can still be good and productive and fulfilling.
My one or two beefs with the story have to do with Doug's parents. Doug's mom is such a doormat, it drives me crazy! The story takes place in the late 60s. Wasn't that around the time of women's liberation? I can't fathom why she stands by her man while he berates, hits, and simultaneously ignores their children. If you can't be strong for yourself then at least be strong for your children.
Doug's dad is the worst excuse for a husband and father EVER. When he's not being an alcoholic loaf or hanging around with his bad news bears appendage, Ernie Eco, he's yelling at his wife or hitting his kids. He holds onto so much anger and resentment and I'm never really sure where it comes from. He's constantly complaining about what a chump his boss is and how he treats his employees terribly. Well, when we're finally introduced to his boss we realize that Doug's dad is full of it. Not only is he a great guy but he's yet another person who takes Doug under his wing and shines a light into his life.
I think what really bothers me is how suddenly Doug's dad turns around at the end of the story. If you've been a jerk for years how realistic is it that you'd wake up one day and do the right thing? I'm not sure if Doug's dad has this change of heart because he's slowly but surely affected by Doug's metamorphosis or if he's overwhelmed by the shame of allowing his "buddy" to poison his family life. Either way, I found it a little too convenient. I think a happier ending would've included Doug's mom kicking him out of the house and apologizing to her sons for allowing their father to treat them like garbage.
Putting those beefs aside, I truly enjoyed Okay for Now. It was an easy, fast read and I'd like to read the precursor - The Wednesday Wars. I fell in love with Doug and his ability to roll with the punches and get right up and dust himself off. His journey is an admirable and instructional one.
Posted by Denise at 9:01 PM