Judged by Grace • Find her on Goodreads
This has been maybe my most eventful book battle matchup thus far (all three of them, shh)…
In this round, I read Okay For Now by Gary D. Schmidt and Greenglass House by Kate Milford. At first glance, the two books don’t seem to have much in common beside the fact that they’re both middle grade novels. Okay for Now is a very heavy, realistic book that deals with a young teenage would-be thug who has just moved to a new town. Greenglass House is a winter-themed mystery with a few fantasy elements, but it deals with a few deeper issues as well.
I had a little trouble getting into Okay for Now at first. I didn’t glance at the summary at all before I read it, so the issues it dealt with came as a complete surprise to me. Doug is a young teenager whose abusive alcoholic father moves his family to a new town, where Doug deals with being the new kid, his father’s behavior, a brother who is accused of being behind a series of local robberies, and his older brother returning from Vietnam with significant injuries and PTSD. At times it was incredibly difficult to read, but it was very moving and important and wonderful and tragic. I am very, very glad I read it.
But I can’t escape this commentary without talking about the ending. At the end of the book, Doug’s father makes an anonymous tip and turns in the real culprit behind the robberies (his father and a friend had been responsible), and Lil, the girl Doug had been interested in, is diagnosed with cancer that is implied to be terminal. I was not surprised at the fact that his father and his father’s friend were responsible for the robberies. I was, however, taken by surprise when Lil was diagnosed, although looking back (after some review of the discussion on the Round 1 post) there are a few hints that Lil had some stomach problems. It’s just that the book was already dealing with such heavy subject matter that I didn’t expect this on top of it.
And there are a few ways to look at both of these plot points.
I can certainly see that Doug himself is an unreliable narrator, still a kid and wants to see his father’s transformation as real, but I was left uncomfortable with the resolution on several levels. The most important is the idea that Doug’s abusive alcoholic father suddenly had a complete change of heart, but even beyond that, my own experience just doesn’t let me buy into the idea that Doug’s father could make an anonymous tip on the robberies and have the police ignore his involvement. (The Broadway plot was also a bit much for me to buy, but I was willing to let that one go.)
As far as the the cancer plot, that mostly just did not feel like it belonged in the same book. Because the rest of the plot was so heavy, having this on top of everything else was a little bit too much for me. The book leaves it open enough that I think you could imagine a happier ending for her if you want to, but given the way the story ends and the simple reality of the time the story was set, there wouldn’t have been much else they could do for Lil.
Anyway, I really, really liked this book but I wish the end had been handled a little differently. One plot or the other I think I would have been fine with, but the combination of the two left me feeling a little flat after an emotionally packed story.
I struggled to get into Greenglass House initially as well. It actually took me a lot longer to get into it, but I blame that more on external factors than anything else. That, and it’s a little strange to read a decidedly winter-themed story when it is 70 degrees and sunny outside. But Greenglass House is ultimately just a cozy, fun book that follows the story of Milo, a twelve year old boy who lives with his adoptive parents at a smuggler’s inn. Right around the Christmas holidays, Milo befriends a girl named Meddy, the cook’s daughter, at the inn and they begin to play a game called Odd Trails. This ultimately leads them to a mystery that unravels over the course of the story.
Interspersed in the story are all of the guests at the inn, and that adds more fun elements in with all of the mystery. The story also touches on some issues that Milo has relating to his adoption, and while they weren’t a major focus, I appreciated how they were handled and the elements that added to the plot. It wasn’t too heavy and didn’t tie everything up neatly, and it still left plenty of room for the fun mystery feeling to stay with me as I read.
I don’t want to say too much and spoil how everything falls into place, but while I knew about part of the plot twist (I accidentally spoiled myself, which is what I get for attempting to use the GoodReads app on my phone), I can honestly say I didn’t see the rest of it coming. It’s possible that knowing part of it is why I didn’t see it coming, but for whatever reason, the surprise was really welcome and I was glad I hadn’t accidentally ruined the whole twist for myself! For all that real life distracted me from getting into the story at first, I couldn’t put it down at the end.
Now, which to choose. Ultimately, I liked both books a lot and I’m really glad I read them. It was an incredibly close call and I could have gone either way. Okay for Now is probably the more important book in spite of its flaws, but I have to give the nod to Greenglass House.