Lucas laughed. So good. “It sounds like you know what you’re talking about.”
Mr. Powell raised an eyebrow. “I’m a librarian,” he said. “I always know what I’m talking about” (p 349).
Holling Hoodhood, the protagonist of The Wednesday Wars, appears only briefly in the first chapter as friend to our new narrator and protagonist, Douglas Swieteck.
Doug is the youngest of three boys. A Yankees enthusiast. An artist, though he denies it. Curious and smart but neglected. A skinny delivery boy. Angry but not mean.
Lucas, the eldest, is fighting the Veitcong while Chris spends his time picking on Doug and acting like a jerk, earning him the reputation of town hoodlum. Doug’s father is unstable and blames everyone else for his troubles. All three boys adore their mother though they can’t show it.
The story begins with the Swietecks making a move north to Marysville, NY. Doug is teetering on the brink of change. Will he become violent and cruel like his father or will he find hope in the unlikeliest of places: in the library, in the so-called gym coach, in a spunkie girl named Lil?
Open only on Saturdays, Doug’s transformation begins with an Audubon painting on display in the library. Through Audubon’s paintings, Doug finds the outlet for his emotions. Through Mr. Powell, an elderly librarian, Doug learns how to be an artist.
Doug also takes a job as a delivery boy for the town grocer, allowing him to meet many of Marysville’s inhabitants. As his world broadens, so does his knowledge and influence.
Schmidt’s storytelling is like Audubon’s Snowy Heron painting. It is perfectly composed, with diagonals and intersections unnoticed until one looks closer. It has different planes of action where intersection is inevitable but the outcome unsure. Doug effects all those he meets in unexpected ways. And even in it’s conclusion, Okay for Now, like all Audubon’s paintings, suggests movement/action yet to happen.
“Look at the diagonals the Audubon sets up first,” Mr. Powell said. “Go from the tip of the heron’s feet to the tip of his beak, and you have the first diagonal. But look at the second diagonal. It’s a lot more subtle. He starts at the end of this broad leaf in the upper left, right here, and then brings it down across the top edge of this broad leaf, and the bottom edge of this rise in the shore. And the two diagonals for…” He waited.
“An x,” I said.
“Exactly right. And in the center of that x is…”
“The lake” (p 205).
Now, is it too soon to start talking Newbery 2012? No! This is hands-down a contender. I connected emotionally to it. It’s layered and subtle. The writing is excellent and Doug is so real. So true. So fresh! There are several themes here that are balanced and proportional. All these distinguish it from anything else I’ve read in the last year, making it a Dogear Favorite of 2011.