Tag Archives: Vietnam War

Book Review: Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt (5/5). Combining Abuse, Disability, Theft, Birds, and Jane Eyre

16 Sep

I hadn’t planned to read this book, but a co-worker was insistent enough to hand it to me and when someone hands you a book, it’s a moral obligation to read it and return it as quickly as possible. Well, I think that. Some people I’ve lent books to don’t feel the same way. But I did my moral duty and finished this book easily in three days.

Cover Image via Goodreads.com

Cover Image via Goodreads.com

Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt

Doug has just moved to a new town and he’s convinced it won’t be any different from the old one. His dad will still get angry and hit him or his mom, he’ll still struggle in school, and he’ll still fight with his older brothers. But somehow, when he meets Lil Spicer on the steps of the library, things change. And finally, for the better.

I didn’t expect to like this book. I expected to fly through it because it’s written for a younger audience and would likely be almost light while it talked about dark topics (I’m looking at you, 13 Reasons Why). Instead, Schmidt wrote about a real boy with real problems who has to suffer through them and find his own internal strength while not being afraid to lean on those around him. What a complicated character for a young book. I was really impressed.

When I finished, my co-worker asked how I liked it and I told her it was perfect because, “I wanted to kill half the characters and hug the other half.” Truthfully, that’s how I feel about the people I meet in real life. Some of them are awesome, incredible people and some of them shouldn’t share my air. I loved how real the characters seemed and so many of them were really dynamic. Doug himself was really dynamic, but his father and brothers changed a lot as well. While I hope there’s no one like Mr. Swieteck out there, I could believe that there is and that’s a credit to Schmidt’s writing.

Doug himself was my favorite character. I understood why he was so angry at first and I loved that he wanted to be different from his dad and brothers by being a good kid but kept resorting to what he had been taught. He was easy to sympathize with even though I’ve never had a similar life situation. And he was so dynamic! He changed in all the ways you want a main character to grow and it was so great to watch it. Add on that the great voice that Schmidt gave him and you’ve got a very lovable 8th grader. I adored him.

I related most to Lil because she was a book person. There wasn’t much else about her that I could sympathize with, but knowing this about her early on in the story made me like her instantly. I guess that’s a good way to get readers to like someone.

I loved the Audubon aspect of the story. I think it was a really cool thing to bring into the story and it made the story very visual for me. I liked looking back at the pictures at the beginning of the chapters to see what the birds looked like. I loved hearing about Doug’s struggles to paint and draw them. His mission to bring them all back to the library was heartbreakingly beautiful for me and I think was a great thread to run through the book.

Gary D. Schmidt Image via Wikipedia

Gary D. Schmidt
Image via Wikipedia

Major spoilers in this next paragraph so skip it if you don’t want to know. Lil’s illness at the end was so devastating to me. So many bad things were happening around Doug that it was hard to see him deal with it. And Lil had been such a positive character that it was really tough to see her weakened. That part of the book reminded me off the story in The Things They Carried when O’Brien reflects on the girl he knew as a child who died from cancer. It’s always so sad to see a child suffer and Lil Spicer broke my heart.

Doug’s story taught us that everyone can change and everything can get better. Doug was so negative at the beginning of the book and believed that everything would end badly for him. Even when something went well, he would sabotage it so that things would go badly. But slowly, he let things go well and they started to get better and his attitude even changed. When his attitude changed, he could surround himself with more positive people and make good things happen. His positivity even extended to his brothers and his father, the three people who brought him down so far at the beginning.

Writer’s Takeaway: Doug’s voice was what pulled me through this book so quickly. His comments to the reader (“Can you believe that? I am not lying.”) made me smile as I was reading and I think would make this book more relatable to young readers. I love a book with a strong voice.

What a refreshing book! I loved it and flew through it. A full Five out of Five stars.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Related Posts:
Okay for Now – Gary D. Schmidt | Don’t Take My Books Away
More than okay | The Librarian Who Doesn’t Say shhh!
Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt | Biblio Links

Book Review: The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien (4/5). Not exactly PTSD.

9 Sep

This is a book that I feel like I’ve read, but I’m pretty sure I haven’t at the same time. I had deja vu during parts of it, and during others I was captivated and turning the pages as fast as I could. Maybe I read sections of it in high school, or maybe I’m crazy. Probably the later.

Cover Image via Goodreads.com

Cover Image via Goodreads.com

The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien

When there’s only so much you can carry, the things you carry mean a lot. Amidst the mortars and rain gear, there are pictures of loved ones and slingshots and Bibles. But there are other things they carry that don’t fit in a bag; memories, scars, the image of a man killed, or the story of what happened to someone. These are all the things they carried. Tim O’Brien’s collection of short stories shows all of these and more in the life of a Vietnam soldier.

I liked how O’Brien structured this book. It wasn’t sequential and for the longest time, Tim didn’t include himself in the story. It’s not exactly his story, but the story of the men he knew. He wasn’t in some of them because he wasn’t present for them. I liked that he included himself more at the end as a way of connecting and explaining the story without too much ‘telling.’ It’s really beautifully crafted.

I’m assuming the characters are based on real people, but they’re based on O’Brien’s memory of the people, and I’m not sure how reliable that is. Some of them seemed down to Earth (as much as could be expected) but some of them were such tall tales it was hard to even consider. I believed in Rat Kiley, but not in Mary Anne Bell. But as I consider it, maybe that’s the point.

Kiowa was my favorite character because he was so diverse and real. Being O’Brien’s closest friend, I think his portrayal is based on more memories than the others and O’Brien was able to capture him well on paper. I liked that he identified so strongly as both a Baptist and a Native American and that those things shaped him so much as a person. He let it guide him and it made him a great friend and a soldier I’d want to have at my side in Vietnam.

I’ve never been a soldier and I don’t see myself becoming one in the future, so I couldn’t relate to the characters on that level. However, O’Brien writes his characters so well that I can relate to them on a more humanitarian level. I can feel their pain and loss and understand why they would do the things they did. I could see myself in their shoes and understanding them as men.

My favorite story was “Speaking of Courage,” where Norman Bowker is driving around and around the lake where he grew up and now lives with his parents. I thought it was very telling of the way I imagine a lot of veterans feel. He was home and happy to be there, but disconnected from the life those around him were living. He knew them, but hadn’t been around for things that happened to them and missed major events and still thought about how life was before the war. When he tried to talk to people about it, they didn’t understand. I thought O’Brien wrote this in a way that made it possible for civilians to understand what life is like through military eyes.

My least favorite story was “The Ghost Soldiers,” when O’Brien plays a prank on the new medic, Jorgenson. It was the first time I didn’t see the soldiers as a group that was ‘in it together.’ In the other stories, they had shared experiences, even if they were tragedies victories. But in this story, the group splintered. I know that at the end, O’Brien and Jorgenson reconciled, but the duration of the story stuck out to me.

Writer’s Takeaway: O’Brien was able to blend the line between fact and fiction with his story. A couple of the stories were second-hand accounts of stories that seem too ‘out there’ to be real but the teller portrays them as real. And no matter the truth, they’re good war stories. O’Brien challenges us to determine if that’s what really matters after all. Are we after the 100% God’s honest truth, or do we just want a good story?

I really enjoyed the story and structure of this book. It moved fast enough to keep me interested but slow enough to keep my attention. Four out of five stars.

This book fulfills 1950-1969 for When Are You Reading? Challenge and Foreign Country: Vietnam for the Where Are You Reading? Challenge.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Related Posts:
“The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien | the Book of Pain
Review: Tim O’Brien’s Novel The Things They Carried, Read by Brian Cranston | Biblioklept