I have read The Wednesday Wars at least four times, and I have not tired of it yet. I doubt I ever will. It is wonderful. I recommend it to everyone I know. It is about a boy named Holling Hoodhood, and it is the best book about real things, real people, and real life that I have read in years. I wrote about it for Kidliterate last summer. When Melissa sent me an advance copy of Okay for Now, also by Gary D. Schmidt, I was excited because of how much I loved The Wednesday Wars, but I had no idea what it was about. I always read whatever Melissa sends me and have for about ten years now because I inevitably love it. She sends me books with sticky notes on the covers: "You will love this." She is never wrong.
I had to take a few months to process it before I could actually sit down and write this today. This book affected me deeply, and I loved it very much, and it is my favorite book of the year, even though, since it's set for publication in the spring of 2011, it is technically my favorite book of next year.
So. Doug Swieteck is only a minor character in The Wednesday Wars, but Okay for Now is his story and the story of the rest of the Swieteck family, including Doug Swieteck's brother, who's always referred to in The Wednesday Wars as "Doug Swieteck's brother" and who's infamous for his colossal jerkery.
It doesn't take a very long glimpse into life in the Swieteck household to understand what makes Doug Swieteck, Doug Swieteck's brother, and the rest of the Swietecks tick. It's not a happy or an easy place to grow up. The eldest brother, Lucas, is serving in the Army in Vietnam. Not helping matters much is the announcement early in the book by Mr. Swieteck that the family is moving from Long Island to an upstate paper mill town, a town Doug instantly hates. He names their house "The Dump." Doug hates a lot of things, or at least acts like he does.
There are a few places Doug could have ended up when starting to explore the town. One of the beat-up stores, or the front stoop of one of the beat-up houses. Lucky for Doug, he ends up at the library. Doug, who's never set foot in a library before, finds this one, and it's marble and lovely. In this library is a glass case with a large book displayed inside, and not just any book. It is a book of Audubon plates, and when Doug sees the print of the arctic tern, it is so beautiful to this "hoodlum in training" that he can't breathe.
And Doug could have met anyone on the library steps. But very lucky for Doug, he meets Lil, whose dad owns the deli and gives him a job. And inside the library, he meets Mr. Powell, who is one of those adults in the world of Gary Schmidt who quietly goes about the business of changing a kid's life. In this case, Mr. Powell does it with the boy with the black hair simply by handing him a pencil.
And so Doug goes along adjusting to life in this new town, visiting the library and dragging ice cream orders in his wagon to the homes of all sorts of strange and interesting people. Doug Swieteck's brother is still a jerk, but of course, there is more to him than we think.
I am not kidding when I tell you that I read this book with tears streaming down my face. It broke my heart, and not because it tells a tragic tale, but because of the way Schmidt captures those moments in life that make your heart shatter into tiny little pieces, not necessarily because you're sad but because you are overcome by the beauty of the moment. Moments that reveal what paintings of birds can teach you about life, and the magic of teachers who believe in lost children and dreams, and the stuff that brothers can be made of, and what it means to call one by his name.
I have always loved this Story People print:
She said she usually cried at least once each day
not because she was sad,
but because the world was so beautiful
and life was so short.
That is why this book makes me cry; that is how this book makes me feel. Like the world is so beautiful and life is so short and it's not just okay for now, it's amazing forever.
To me, there is no better kind of book than that.