Friday, April 12, 2013

Jen Rereads Okay For Now

Last year, when I reread in April, I shared my revelations about rereading. This year, I wasn't sure how different my thoughts and reflections on rereading would be. For the most part, I am recognizing again and again how the first time through is truly about reading and soaking in the story or the plot but that multiple rereads are for relishing in the writing and really noticing what the author is doing. This makes sense, but I'm experiencing it with every book and it was really noticeable as I reread Okay For Now.

I first read Okay For Now in May of 2011. I have nothing but great memories of the book and distinct memories about Doug, the main character. Reading it again, I still believe Gary Schmidt does an excellent job with the characters and emotions in this book. One thing that is different this time, is that I found myself not as enamored with plot as much as I thought I was. Rereading allowed me to really think about the book as a whole and how the plot plays out. While I still love the characters and reading about how Doug grows, I didn't end up enjoying the plot as a whole as much as I did the first time around. Now I'm wondering about this! Is it because before I was so wrapped up in the story and Doug that I enjoyed how it all wrapped up by the end and now rereading I realize the plot overall wasn't as strong as I remember? Or, could it be that I'm a different reader now. It's been about two years since I first read Okay For Now and I have read so many books since then. Am I able to recognize qualities of a book differently now from when I first read this book? When I think about Dead End in Norvelt and Splendors and Glooms, those are both books that lacked a strong plot and movement with the plot...and I feel a little bit of this now with Okay For Now. But why do I feel that now compared to when I first read it? 

What I really believe is that we do change and grow as readers. Something we love today may not be something we love later on and vice versa. Similarly, whether it has been two years or two days since we first read something and then reread it, we change as readers. We think about things differently when we revisit. Sometimes, we can reread and love a book all over again or more but other times we can look at a book in a different way by rereading and see things differently. Either way, what a strong discussion to have and what a remarkable thing to notice about rereading. It truly is a powerful strategy that we need to help students embrace. Our first impressions may need to be challenged and tested.

Title: Okay For Now 
Author: Gary D. Schmidt 
Publisher: Clarion Books 
Publication Date: April, 2011 
Genre/Format: Historical Fiction/Novel 
GoodReadsSummary: Midwesterner Gary D. Schmidt won Newbery Honor awards for Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boys and The Wednesday Wars, two coming-of-age novels about unlikely friends finding a bond. Okay For Now, his latest novel, explores another 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. 
What I Think: Doug Swieteck is the most well-written character in children's literature. That's what I think. As I said above, having reread Okay For Now, I can see criticism people might have about the plot of this book, but I cannot imagine anyone arguing with the fact that Doug Swieteck comes to life within the pages of this book. I have so much to say about what Gary Schmidt does as an author. In rereading, I noticed that Schmidt uses voice and 2nd person narrative to really make Doug come to life. 
     To start, Doug isn't any average character. He is a boy with an attitude and, from the start, an un-trustworthy narrator. There are so many times in the book when Doug says, "I'm not lying," which automatically makes you wonder if he is lying or how much he does lie and how much we can trust him. There are so many times in the book when he complains and is completely honest, not holding back in telling the reader how he feels. And there are so many times when he asks the reader questions or asks the reader to imagine. While Schmidt uses amazing description, he also chooses perfect times to just say, "You know how that feels, right?" and he leaves it all up to the reader to imagine. 
     What I really love about Doug, is that he talks in run-ons. I know we aren't supposed to like run-ons, but so much of great writing really breaks the rules. Breaking the rules about writing can bring writing to life as long as it's done in a very conscious and purposeful way. I only pulled one really great example of a run-on (which also happens to be a great passage to infer about Doug's dad as well), but there are many examples of run-ons in this book but run-ons that make sense to Doug's voice and who he is as a narrator. Telling students to not use run-on or to not use fragments or not start a sentence with "and" or "but" is important but dangerous at the same time. I recognize that we have to teach them standard English but I also believe there comes a time to have a discussion about when we can break the rules and WHY we would want to break the rules. Often the best writing does break the mold and that's where we see voice shining through. Using various examples from Okay For Now would be a great anchor text to use in talking about using run-ons and the impact of that. 
     As I reread, I thought about Doug and how he reminds me of characters from some of the classic books I read in high school (and after). He reminded me of Pony Boy from The Outsiders, both seem to be misunderstood. He also reminded me of Holden Caufield from Catcher in the Rye except I so enjoyed Doug and Okay For Now so much more than Catcher in the Rye. I just think these might ladder well or at least make for an interesting discussion about what we as readers know and think about the main character as our narrator. 
Read Together: Grades 5 - 7 
Read Alone: Grades 5 - 8 
Read With: Eli the Good by Silas House, Wednesday Wars by Gary Schmidt, Paperboy by Vince Vawter, Ghetto Cowboy by G. Neri, The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton, Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier, A Separate Peace by John Knowles  
Snatch of Text:  
     "I tried to talk to my father about it. But it was a wrong day. Most days are wrong days. Most days he comes home red-faced with his eyes half closed and with that deadly silence that lets you know he'd have a whole lot to say if he ever let himself get started and no one better get him started because there's no telling when he'll stop and if he ever did get started then pretty Mr. Culross at freaking Culross Lumber better not be the one to get him started because he'd punch pretty Mr. Culross's freaking lights out and he didn't care if he did lose his job because it's a lousy job anyway." (p. 4)
     "Lucas is my oldest brother who stopped beating me up a year and a half ago when the United States Army drafted him to beat up Vietcong instead. He's in a delta somewhere but we don't know any more than that because he isn't allowed to tell us and he doesn't write home much anyway. Fine by me." (p. 6)
     "It was dark inside. And cool. And quiet. And maybe stupid Marysville was a dump, but this place wasn't." (p. 17)
     "The wings were wide and white, and they swooped back into sharp rays." (p. 20)
     "It was hardly morning, but already the room was sweating hot. If there had been curtains, they would have hung like they were dead." (p. 21)
     "I lifted the Coke to my lips, tipped the bottle up, and gulped, and gulped, and gulped. It was fizzing and bubbling and sparkling, like little fireworks in my mouth." (p. 29)
Mentor Text For: Activating Background Knowledge, Making Connections, Making Inferences, Visualizing, Personal Narrative, Descriptive, Run-Ons, Voice, Characterization, 
Writing Prompts: Write about a time in your life when you felt defeated; like nobody believed in you, like you couldn't go on, like you should give up. Did you give up (and why) or did you persevere (and how)?  
Topics Covered: Family, Siblings, Friendship, Self-Esteem, Opportunity, Confidence, Honesty, Trust, Integrity, Integration - Art, Hope, Determination, Perseverance 
 I *heart* It: 


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