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Sarcasm and Redemption: Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt

Well hello there!

I’ve been reading some of the 2013-2014 Florida Sunshine State books even though I’m moving out-of-state soon.  One of these books is Okay for Now by Gary Schmidt, which is apparently also on the South Carolina Junior Book Award list as well!

Okay for Now by Gary D. SchmidtOkay For Now explores a seemingly improbable alliance, this one between new outsider in town Doug Swieteck and Lil Spicer, the savvy spitfire daughter of his deli owner boss. With her challenging assistance, Doug discovers new sides of himself. Along the way, he also readjusts his relationship with his abusive father, his school peers, and his older brother, a newly returned war victim of Vietnam.

This was the first of the Florida Sunshine State books that I read this year. Being narrated by a male main character, I wouldn’t have chosen to read it first, but my library had the audiobook so I decided to give it a try.

Okay for Now was incredibly good. Like I want everyone I know to read it good.

First of all, I don’t know why I always shy away from male main characters, but I do! When I do actually take the time to read a book with a male main character, I usually end up enjoying it, so I don’t know whats wrong with me!  Well Doug, the main character in Okay for Now was incredibly refreshing. He was sarcastic and cynical in a way that I can relate to.  As the reader you quickly realize that Doug’s cynicism is just a shell he’s constructed to protect himself because that’s how he thinks real men should behave.

What I can’t get out of my head is what an awesome story of personal growth and redemption Okay for Now is. Doug grows and matures so much throughout the course of this book and the reader gets to see how far a little nurturing and love can do to really alter someone’s life. He starts out with an incredibly negative view of life and relationships, but eventually starts to let go of all that negativity with the help of some encouraging friends/mentors. But Doug isn’t the only character who experiences a little redemption in the end and this is probably the most difficult to accept yet beautiful maturation of all.

The difficulty and tension of the father-son relationships in Doug’s family is palpable. You can just feel the wall in Doug’s heart growing taller with every negative word or action from his father. It is amazing that Doug is able to turn into the young man he becomes considering the type of man his father is.

I will say that I was a little thrown for a loop with the sudden plot twist toward the end, but I did enjoy the fact that this surprise didn’t cause Doug to buckle under the pressure, but instead spurs him to love harder than ever.

Okay for Now is a hilariously witty and sarcastic coming of age story that everyone should read. I loved it and highly recommend it, but I don’t know how my students will respond to it since they normally aren’t fond of historical fiction.

Author: Gary D. Schmidt

Publisher: Clarion Books (April 1, 2011)

Format: audiobook

Length: 9 hours and 16 mins

Narrator(s): Lincoln Hoppe

Series: Standalone

YA/MG: MG

Buy the Book:  Okay for Now

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Enjoy a Nice Story: 13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson

13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen JohnsonI finally read a book by Maureen Johnson!

Inside little blue envelope 1 are $1,000 and instructions to buy a plane ticket.

In envelope 2 are directions to a specific London flat.

The note in envelope 3 tells Ginny: Find a starving artist.

Because of envelope 4, Ginny and a playwright/thief/ bloke-about-town called Keith go to Scotland together, with somewhat disastrous-though utterly romantic-results. But will she ever see him again?

Everything about Ginny will change this summer, and it’s all because of the 13 little blue envelopes.

I have heard great things about Maureen Johnson’s books and I’ve had my eyes on this one for a while before realizing that it was one of Johnson’s.  I was immediately caught by the premise of a sort of scavenger hunt, it automatically made me think of the 39 Clues or National Treasure, which I love!  The idea of someone sending characters on a search to find something valuable is just so much fun!

In 13 Little Blue Envelopes the valuable “item” isn’t literal its the idea of finding out who you are.  Ginny, the teenage main character, is not confident in herself at all.  In fact, she believes that her life isn’t interesting unless her Aunt Peg is involved.  You can really see how much Ginny admired and cared for her aunt, and how confused she was when Peg disappeared from her life.

Although Johnson touches on pretty heavy themes of death and grief, she manages to create a read that is very light and breezy, like I imagine a summer on the Mediterranean would feel. I was never overwhelmed by the grief Ginny has at the loss of her aunt, which is a good thing because, as I’ve mentioned before, I dislike books that make me cry!

I will say that Maureen Johnson’s writing style is not what I’m used to and it took me a little bit to get into the story, but once I did I was hooked.  Johnson is hilarious and there were multiple scenes and situations that make me chuckle. My favorite was Ginny’s embarrassing experience in the Richard’s squeaky bathtub.  As one who is afraid of bathroom noises (any people hearing them!) this scene had me cringing and laughing at the same time!  Also, I really enjoyed all the different supporting characters that Ginny meets along the way from the stressful family in Amsterdam to the creepy guy in Italy, each person has a role to play in Ginny’s experience.

I’ve read some reviews where readers complain that they went through most of the book feeling like they didn’t know anything about the main character.  I would agree with this.  Johnson doesn’t give up a lot of inner monologue or detailed information about who Ginny is and what she’s thinking, so in some way, we’re very limited in understanding of Ginny.  But I do think that’s the point.  Ginny doesn’t know much about herself either; she’s doing a lot of self discovery on this trip that Aunt Peg has sent her on.  That’s why Peg as sent Ginny on his trip in the first place!

I’ve also seen some readers complaining about the fact that 13 Little Blue Envelopes is non realistic; suggesting that no parent would ever let their teenage daughter jaunt around Europe alone with no cellphone or contact with home.  Yes, they’re probably right.  But that’s what I love about fiction.  It doesn’t have to be reality!  It’s okay, I don’t think Johnson is suggesting that this is or should be the parental norm.  Lets just enjoy a nice story and not worry about the details all the time! :)

In the end, I was pleased with this story and really want to read the sequel, The Last Little Blue Envelope.  I’d recommend 13 Little Blue Envelopes to older middle school readers and up who love traveling and a good coming of age story.

I wish someone would send me to Europe!

Author: Maureen Johnson

Publisher: HarperTeen (August 23, 2005)

Format: Hardcover (Library Bound)

Length: 366 pages

Series: First in a two book series

YA/MG: YA

Buy the Book: 13 Little Blue Envelopes