Friday, July 25, 2014

The Wednesday Wars and Okay for Now: Two Endearing Reads for the Ages!

Do you know what it's like to find a book that you absolutely fall in love with?  In love with every word?  Every event?  Every character?  (Well...almost.)  And can you imagine what it's like to find not one but two of these books, written as companions to each other?  Do you know what that feels like? 

Gary D. Schmidt swept me away with the stories in The Wednesday Wars, published in 2007, and Okay for Now, published in 2013.  Both books have strikingly similar elements and themes with endearing characters that I want to keep reading about!  Taking place in the 1960's during the roaring Vietnam War, each book is told from the perspective of a different middle school boy with impossibly egocentric fathers, quiet mothers, and annoying older siblings.  And both books showcase the companionship that adults can form with children, even in the most unlikely of circumstances.  

The Wednesday Wars was written in 2007.
In The Wednesday Wars, Holling Hoodhood is just trying to survive seventh grade with a teacher, Mrs. Baker, who he is sure absolutely hates his guts.  (She makes him clap the erasers after school every Wednesday, for crying out loud!)  Meanwhile, he has to deal with Doug Swieteck's older brother's antics, which include posting pictures of Holling around the school wearing yellow tights with white feathers on'll just have to read to find out.  His sister wants to be a flower child, his father is obsessed with his architecture firm and seemingly little else, and his mother does not have a voice in their family anyway.  Plagued with the escape of his classroom's rats, enamored with the words of Shakespeare and baseball, fearful of being drafted into Vietnam in just five years, Holling navigates the oft rugged landscape of middle school with some unexpected heroes.

Okay for Now was published in 2013.

In Okay For Now, the author has crafted a new novel about Doug Swieteck himself who moves to Marysville, New York with his family after his father loses his job in Long Island.  Before he leaves, Holling Hoodhood comes to say good-bye and to share a special gift with Doug.  When Doug arrives in Marysville, he feels like an absolute chump until he bonds with Mr. Powell, the librarian at the Marysville Free Public Library, over an original book of John James Audubon's bird drawings.  Besides developing an interest and talent for himself, Doug is employed every Saturday at Spicer's Deli as a delivery boy, and the money he earns is, of course, taken away by his father to help support the family.  In the meantime, his brother returns from Vietnam much different than the way he left, his gym teacher's personal mission seems to be to torture poor Doug, and he does not want to read stupid Jane Eyre in class'll just have to read it yourself to figure that out!

I absolutely admire the way Gary D. Schmidt has crafted both of these novels to be endearing, hopeful, and sweet, while still speaking to the hearts and passions of middle school boys.  Featuring grand coincidences in each novel and siblings who are not given names until the end of book - when Holling and Doug realize that their siblings do have identities after all - Mr. Schmidt writes in a way that makes me want to read more.  He embodies what it means to have voice as a writer, and I look forward to reading more of his books in the future. 

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