Okay for Now by Gary Schmidt

Before you read any further, just know that this is an instant classic. Okay for Now is a book that will remain on bookshelves for a very long time, and it has both kid appeal and enormous literary appeal.

Okay for Now is a sequel to Schmidt’s The Wednesday Wars, but it stands on its own just fine.  I read and loved The Wednesday Wars, but I don’t think you have to read it in order to appreciate and love Okay for Now.

Doug Swieteck has just moved to a small town, Marysville,  in upstate NY.  He has no friends.  He is living with his angry, abusive father, and an older brother who is walking a fine line between right and wrong. He finds an unlikely ally in Lil Spicer, whose father offers him a job delivering groceries.  Doug begrudgingly takes the job because he has nothing else to do.  But his life is forever altered when he wanders into the library and comes face to face with  the plates of John James Audubon’s birds in a book under glass.

There are plenty of stories here, and they all intertwine as the story progresses.  It’s an ambitious book, but Gary Schmidt pulls it off and then some.  Dysfunctional family, war, conservation, small-town politics, love, and so much more: it’s all here. But Schmidt never lets it sound contrived or over-the-top.  Even more importantly, Schmidt is never heavy-handed.  There are plenty of laughs to be had and I found myself laughing out loud more than once.  It’s darker than The Wednesday Wars, but it never *feels* dark, if you understand what I mean.  It’s highly readable and I read it straight through in one sitting.

This one has been slowly making the rounds through my class. I did not get a chance to booktalk it before a student filched it from the ARC basket, but it seems he has been booktalking it for me. He rated it 5 stars on Goodreads and I haven’t seen our ARC back on the shelf since then! So for those who fear that this is one of those books that adults enjoy more than teens, I can say that is definitely not true. My teens are loving Okay for Now!

Highly recommended and definitely on my possibly Newbery/Printz list for this year!


Strings Attached by Judy Blundell

National Book Award winner Judy Blundell is one of my favorite authors.  What I Saw and How I Lied is one of my all-time favorite books and I love recommending it to my teens.  When I received an ARC of Blundell’s newest venture, Strings Attached, I was ecstatic. Within 24 hours I sat down with it and read it cover to cover. I immediately handed it to one of my students, who also read it cover to cover in less than a day.

Set in 1950, Strings Attached takes on a lot. It’s historical fiction, a mystery, a romance, and so much more. A summary can’t do the book justice. Yes, it’s about Kit Corrigan setting out on her own and trying to break into show business in New York City. It’s also about the gangsters who control so much of NYC and life up and down the East coast. It’s about class differences. It’s about depression and parental neglect. It’s about love, and what is true love. It’s about Broadway and music. About intrigue and deception, talent and determination.

What an evocative and atmospheric book! This is exactly what I love about Judy Blundell- her writing absolutely immerses you in the time and place of the book. I could smell the salt air in Providence, and smell the smoke in the NYC night clubs. I could hear the street noises outside Kit’s window and smell the coffee she brewed in her kitchen.  While reading, you are Kit, and you see what she sees and you hear what she sees.  The setting manages to overwhelm your senses at times, in an amazing way.

The chapters alternate, jumping from earlier in Kit’s life to her present situation. This nonlinear storytelling could throw some readers off at first, but within a few pages you are invested in Kit’s life and her story, and there is no going back. A slow-building story, it pulls you in, winding and twisting before ripping your heart out at the end. Upon finishing the book, my student rushed into my room and exclaimed, “I just screamed OUT LOUD in the lunch room! When I got to that part! AGH!”. She then stormed out of my room, still aghast. I felt the same way when I finished the book. Just when you think you have everything figured out, Blundell turns the story on its head and you are turning pages faster than you can read. Unbelievable. The suspense builds and builds, keeping you on the edge of your seat for the entirety of the book.

This is a book that teens and adults alike will love. I am recommending it to everyone I know. Go out and pick up a copy right now. Do not miss this book. It’s on my Printz and National Book Award list for this year.

Need some more convincing?  Check out this writing:

“We pack away lies in that house like you pack away Christmas. We put them in boxes and tape them over.”

“Faith seems to grab people and not let go, but hope is a double-crosser. It can beat it on you anytime; it’s your job to dig in your heels and hang on. Must be nice to have hope in your pocket, like loose change you could jingle through your fingers.”