Doug Swieteck has a hard life: his family has to move to a tiny house in a small town near New York, his father is unreliable and abusive and his brother seems to have the same behaviour; the other brother is in Vietnam for the war.
The only strong point of the family is Doug’s mother, silent, obliging and with a wonderful, beautiful smile, as Doug points often out.
The novel is centered on Doug and on his family new life, it tells about different topics (Doug return to school, his learning problems, his familiar issues, the reaction of the town to the Swieteck family, his relation with his father and the come back of his brother from Vietnam for example) but mostly is about Doug and his way to deal and to solve his own problems without asking for pity or by self commiseration, in a process that involves also errors and change of behaviours.
Each chapter is marked by a bird painting by Audubon that Doug analyses, paints and that helps Doug in sorting out his own emotions: the painting meaning is not fixed but changes in function good or bad events in Doug life.
A strong point of the novel is the character description, every one of them is well constructed, even if by using only a few elements, and they all have a purpose in the story; they are not bi-dimensional but they evolve with Doug and are sometimes able to prove the reader wrong in judging them.
Impression about characters and the story events are always provided by Doug, who tells the story directly to the reader as in a dialogue or monologue (and Doug can be either open or in a self-defense manner), this way to tell the story is very engaging and helps in creating the boy’s personality.
Edit. Audubon’s work – The birds of America – is a physically giant book (searching the net can provide some images), here for example there are some info about each bird image.
* Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt – ★★★★☆½
*I read this book in English