Recent Reads: A Schmidt-fest and a memoir

Categories Biography, Christianity, Novels

After enjoying the Wednesday Wars, I forged ahead to Okay for Now, Gary D. Schmidt’s companion book written from the perspective of the Wednesday Wars’ narrator’s classmate. Doug Swieteck is a different kind of narrator than Holling Hoodhood, partly because his home life and social stratum are different. Holling’s dad is an architect, but Doug’s dad is a working class guy with a big chip on his shoulder. While neither narrator’s home life is warm or promising, Doug at least has a mother who cares about him and asserts an identity of her own.

Doug has to make his way in a new town, and he comes up against plenty of obstacles in the process. I, and both daughters as well, enjoyed this book more than WW in part because the darkness gave it more realism. Holling thought he had problems, but Doug actually has some. Even though there are implausibilities in the tale, there is an emotional realism that had an impact on me as I read, and of course there’s lots of wit. As a bonus, several familiar books find their way into the story as well.

The only negative was the ending, which brought some tragedy seemingly out of nowhere and then left it unresolved. I couldn’t accept this initially, and believed against all hope that a sequel must be out there, or at least a definitive statement about what happens next.

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Straw into Gold was a total departure from these previous Schmidt reads. It’s a retelling of the tale of Rumplestiltskin that takes its reader into a fairytale landscape. It was, like the other two Schmidt books in this review, located in the Young Adult books at the library, perhaps because there is some cruelty in the story.

I don’t have much to say about this one. It was a comfortable read that left me with an appetite for oatmeal with cinnamon. warm bread and honey, herbs, fresh milk, and the smell of wheat. Other than that, I don’t have much to say about it.

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Trouble veers back into a world where real struggles and tensions exist as the protagonist’s brother is injured badly in a car accident. The car, it turns out, is driven by a young Cambodian living in a nearby community of Cambodian refugees who have come to America in search of a new life. They seem off to a promising start, but they come up against racism and fear too.

I was disappointed at the level of simplification and stereotype in this tale. Perhaps these things exist in the other stories too, but because the issues do not seem as relevant, I didn’t notice as much. Compassion for refugees, racism, and feelings of powerlessness are certainly timely issues now. But the cultural moment now is different, so the story is not a perfect match.

What can be said for it is that it shows how racism is dealt with between individuals, which is perhaps the best and only way to break through stereotypes and fears to humane and redemptive relationship.

The themes and events in this tale are definitely YA fare, not for younger children. It seems like a book that could prompt some useful discussions with its target age group.

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Just this evening, I finished reading As soon as I fell, a memoir by missionary Kay Bruner. It was offered for free on the Kindle recently. The book is an honest account of how the author’s performance-based faith was transformed through various hardships and disappointments that ultimately led to a crisis. The book is raw at times, and I experienced a range of emotions as I read it. Parts of it seemed to crawl, but by the end I found it hard to put down.

Whether or not we can relate to all the experiences recounted in the book, its insights into faith are bracing and real.

 

4 thoughts on “Recent Reads: A Schmidt-fest and a memoir

  1. Oh, I’m kind of sad you didn’t love Trouble as much as I do.

    I read or heard somewhere that Gary Schmidt is working on a book about Meryl Lee. I can’t wait!

  2. My youngest son and I have been on our own little Schmidt-fest in our vehicle as we run between play practices and piano lessons. Some of the draw for me is that his stories are often set in New England, but I particularly enjoy his male protagonists. As the mum of four boys, these books draw me in as much as my son. We just finished listening to Orbiting Jupiter which I would not recommend for a young reader because of the mature theme, but even so it is well-written and very pro-family. You’ll be happy to know that Doug Swietec’s Vietnam War Vet brother shows up in a key supportive role in this one! Loved that!

    1. Wow, I’ve actually read ‘Orbiting Jupiter,’ but I didn’t remember that detail! — I hadn’t “met” Lucas yet when I read ‘Orbiting.’

  3. I like Okay for Now best of all of Schmidt’s books that I have read. You might want to try What Came From the Stars, which is very different from any of Schmidt’s other books. It’s a fantasy/scifi book, and I loved it. I had several people tell me, however, that they did not like it at all. http://www.semicolonblog.com/?p=19084

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