Armchair Audies post for one of the nominees in the Teen category. I'd not have heard of this book otherwise, so I'm quite glad I participated in this project. As a matter of fact, both author and narrator were new to me, and I'm sure I'd enjoy more work by both of them.
Gary Schmidt's Okay for Now is a coming-of-age novel about Doug Swieteck, whose life is not all that promising when, at 14, his abusive father's search for employment causes his family to relocate to the small town of Marysville, NY. (Doug and his hoodlum of an older brother feature in Schmidt's Newberry-winning The Wednesday Wars, which I'm going to have to read now that I've realized that.) Doug's troublemaking oldest brother is serving in Vietnam (this would be the late 60s), his hoodlum middle brother quickly finds a dodgy element to hang with, and his father now works with a friend who defines "partner in crime." It doesn't take long for the town to label long-haired, illiterate Doug.
Doug, however, is extraordinary. Not that he knows that. All he knows about himself, it seems, is that nothing good will come to him, and if it does, it will be taken away. It's better to remain aloof and untouched. He does, however reluctantly, come to know a few people in town just well enough that they begin to see him for who he is, instead of who they assume him to be. A classmate named Lil who holds him to a standard he would never aspire to on his own. One of the town librarians breaks through to his artistic soul. Some of the customers on the delivery route he works for Lil's father, the deli owner, come to depend on him. Gradually, and with many setbacks thanks to his brother, his father, and circumstances beyond his control, Doug opens himself up a little. His ingrained habit of expecting nothing for himself propels him to seek something for everyone. In this case, it's the breathtaking plates of Audubon's Birds of America, which Doug discovers and is captivated by on his first trip to the library. The town has been selling off the plates, though, to raise money, and Doug needs, on a deep level, to see the volume restored to completeness. His quest brings him - and Lil - to Broadway, and horseshoe pitches, and more than once to the principal's office.
Listening to this book, you'll be moved by Doug's descriptions of Audubon's birds, and want to look them up. Not having them right there in the text in hand is the only drawback I can imagine to Lincoln Hoppe's narration. Hoppe is so expressive, and captures everything about Doug's young voice - the anger, the loneliness, the wonder, the tenderness, the trepidation, the love. His voice mirrors Doug's growth throughout - the bitter and defeated tone making way for one that contains true flashes of happiness. I doubt Hoppe smiled more than once while reading the early chapters, and it was an extremely effective choice. I really sank deep into this narration, and am wondering if my family should take a road trip soon, so we can listen to it together.