I just read another great book, and this was the second time I read it. Gary D. Schmidt’s Okay for Now I first read as a reader. The next I did so as a writer.
In a nutshell, Doug is a tough kid hardened by an abusive father and two older brothers. His father’s obnoxious behavior gets him fired, forcing the family to move to stupid Marysville in upstate New York where the small town people target him as a hoodlum. But Doug is not the ruffian the town perceives him to be. There is a another side to this survivor kid who, by reaching out to others, allows himself to transcend the prejudice against him and the family he’s a product of.
This book is fantastic on many levels. The voice is striking and Schmidt absolutely nails this kid. He maintains Doug’s tough-guy persona, yet allows him to shed it and for the character to grow. The voice is true throughout and does not waver. Another thing Schmidt does nicely is to allow Doug to talk to directly to readers, as if he and they were all chatting in the same room.
Schmidt provides a strong cast of characters and the amiable Doug is willing to reach out to them. Lil is the first person to notice the skinny thug and he follows her into the public library. She is in most of his middle school classes. Her father runs the market and hires Doug to be a Saturday morning delivery boy. On his rounds, he befriends his regular customers, including a playwright and a policeman’s family. Saturday afternoons Doug is fascinated by a large book of Audubon’s drawings under glass in the library. An elderly library worker introduces Doug to art techniques, such as composition and movement in a picture, lessons that play out in various aspects of Doug’s life. And Schmidt give us teachers, some who provoke him to be the hoodlum they see him as, others who see his softer side.
I don’t know what’s more critical to craft a good story, voice or character. I suppose it should have both.