Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Thoughts on Okay for Now and The Wednesday Wars

Like many children's literature enthusiasts, I read and loved Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt, and my review says as much. Okay for Now is a companion novel to The Wednesday Wars, which I also liked. So after reading Okay for Now for a second time, I went back and reread The Wednesday Wars as well.

I quickly fell back into Holling Hoodhood's story, but numerous times I found myself thinking "Doug Swieteck" instead of "Holling Hoodhood" as I read. I thought the books shared the same tone and pacing. Both books feature a smart, somewhat sarcastic main character who often holds back what he really wants to say. Why the similarities? I wondered. Is it just the author's style? Was Doug so memorable that I'm transplanting him into someone else's story? [Spoilers Ahead]

But when Holling said, "Do you know how it feels...?", a phrase used repeatedly by Doug Swieteck, I started paying more attention to the similarities. Here's what I jotted down as I read:
  • Holling shares a "brand-new bottle of Coke" with Meryl Lee and Doug shares "a really cold Coke" with Lil.
  • Both refer to people as "chumps."
  • Running is important to both characters. Holling runs on the cross country team and Doug runs when he skips gym class.
  • Holling and Doug both might lose their girlfriends. Meryl Lee might move away because of her father's job, and Lil fights a sickness.
  • Both speak to the reader using the phrase "You probably remember..." or a similar phrase to recall significant events.
  • Doug's father is physically abusive. Holling's father is emotionally abusive, ignoring his children or quickly dismissing their feelings and opinions. 
  • Both Doug and Holling fear they will be forced down their father's path, whether it's as an abusive drunk or a career-obsessed architect.
  • Both families have stressful silent dinners.
  • Both Holling and Doug have antagonistic older siblings who show their true feelings in the end.
  • Both stories feature soldiers who return home.
Reader Mike left a comment on my original review of Okay for Now and asks an interesting question. He said that while Okay for Now is like The Wednesday Wars, he describes it to his students as sadder. He comments, "The Really Bad Things happen around Holling, but not necessarily to Holling. In Okay For Now, The Really Bad Things happen to Doug. Is it because Holling's life is almost a charmed life? And Doug is just charming?"

That's an interesting question that seems to fit my comparison. No, Holling and Doug are not exactly alike, and Doug's life is certainly more difficult, but there are similarities. Could it be as Mike suggests, that Holling lives a charmed life where things just seem to work out and Doug is simply a charming character?

Finally, on a completely different note. Whose hat did Doug get? In Okay for Now he insists it belonged to Joe Pepitone, but in The Wednesday Wars it's not so clear. After Horace Clark and Joe Pepitone play catch with Doug, Danny, and Holling, it says on page 98
"Afterward, they signed our baseballs and signed our mitts. They gave us each two tickets for Opening Day next April. And they gave Doug and Danny their caps."
It could go either way. However, two days after Opening Day, Mrs. Baker, Doug, Danny, and Holling have their picture in the Home Town Chronicle surrounded by Yankees players. Then on page 198 Holling tells readers
"I wore Joe Pepitone's jacket to school, and Danny wore his hat, and Doug wore Horace Clark's hat."
That seems pretty clear, unless Danny and Doug decided to trade hats for the day. I'm curious why Horace Clark was switched for Joe Pepitone, especially when it's Pepitone's jacket, not the hat, that plays a role in Okay for Now.

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