Okay, I’m usually not too sad that I don’t have any kids of my own. I have lovely nieces and a nephew and I get to cuddle babies for an hour each week and that’s usually plenty for me. I get out before the back-talk and clean-your-room yelling has to start. I read a book this week that made me want to snatch up the next surly teen boy I saw on the street and take him home with me to coddle forever.
Gary D. Schmidt’s Okay for Now is one of the best books I’ve read in years. Doug Swieteck moves to a new town with his kind-hearted, but defeated mother, drunken, violent father, one delinquent brother gone off to fight in Vietnam and another busy living up to everyone’s low opinion of his future. Doug weaves himself into the landscape of the town, finding allies and enemies and mostly turning his enemies into allies despite himself.
You want your heart broken? Doug gets an autographed cap from a Yankees player named Joe Pepitone. (And a testament to the power of this book is that I now know who Joe Pepitone is. And I love him. Even if he did pose naked for a magazine called Foxy Lady and (this is my favorite)pretend to be injured all the time when he was playing in Japan, only to then show up dancing every night in discotheques, leading to his name becoming slang in Japan for “goof off.”) Anyway, Doug gets a signed cap from Pepitone and his brother steals it from him and it gets ruined.
But once, it was the only thing I ever owned that hadn’t belonged to some other Swieteck before me.
Doug’s brother is questioned in the break-in of a local store and most of Doug’s burgeoning friends and allies withdraw their kindnesses, assuming that he must be like the rest of his family.
Doug Swieteck,” Mr. Ferris said, “do you know the basic principle of physical science?” A trick? “No,” I said, sort of slow. He rocked Clarence. “The basic principle of physical science is this: two bodies cannot occupy the same space at the same time. Do you understand that?” “I think so,” I said. “Do you understand what that principle means? I shook my head. “It means, Doug Swieteck, that in this class, you are not your brother.”
I cried more at this book than I have in a while. I sobbed – ugly sobbed – more than once. Your heart breaks for this boy over and over again, but it’s a very, very funny book, too. Schmidt has a marvelous turn of phrase and sense of hyperbole that he gives almost entirely to writing Doug’s inner monologues. Doug gets a part in a play where he has to scream offstage like a madwoman,
I’m not lying. I got good at this. If you had heard me shrieking, you would have thought someone was being murdered too. It was so eerie, you might have thought that someone who had been murdered was shrieking. You might even have thought that someone who had been murdered had come back and was murdering the murderer, who was shrieking. That’s how good I was.
And then it’s time for the performance and guess who shows up for the play? (Here’s a hint – He’s foxy!)
And you know what I was going to do? I was going to shriek like an insane woman who has been locked in an attic for a great many years.
In front of Joe Pepitone.
You know what that feels like?
You can’t know what that feels like, because no one has ever had to shriek like an insane woman who has been locked in an attic for a great many years in front of Joe Pepitone.
Go read this book! Run fast to get it. Run fast like Joe Pepitone running to the Japanese discotheques!
*The title fit too well not to use, but if you people knew how much I hate Fogerty & CCR…Shudder