Sunday, March 24, 2013

Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt ****

I listen to NPR a lot in the car.  It's something I've started doing more the past couple years, I guess I'm growing up & want to know what's going on in the world more.  So one day I was driving home from work & they announced a new book for the Back Seat Bookclub.  I'd never heard of it before, but basically it's something I would have liked as a kid--they suggest new books for kids who like to read, & interview the authors.  Okay for Now was the book that day & the interview with Gary D. Schmidt was interesting.  But I forgot all about it when I got home.  As usual.
Then about a week later I was perusing the e-books that are available from our local library to borrow.  I love this very much cause I can't get overdue fees, they just disappear the book off my device!  (I have a chronic problem with getting books back to the library on time.  They've made so much money off me there they must glow with joy when I check out 10 books.)  Anyway, there was Okay for Now in the new arrivals.  And then the little light bulb went off & I remembered the interview & amazingly there was a copy available so I got it.
The story centers around Doug Swieteck, a 14 year old boy living in New York state during the Vietnam War era.  His family life is depressing--his father is an alcoholic, & he physically & emotionally abuses Doug, his older brother Christopher, & his mother.  His oldest brother Lucas is currently in Vietnam, but about halfway through the book he returns home without his legs & his vision at jeopardy.  Doug suffers from the usual adolescent problems, but they're compounded by the crushing responsibility he feels towards his mother's happiness & some other issues that aren't so apparent in the beginning of the book.  When the story opens his family is moving from Long Island to an upstate town called Marysville because of his dad being fired, & Doug's most cherished treasure, a ball cap that Joe Pepitone gave him, has been stolen by his brother Christopher.  As Doug tries to settle in to the new town, he discovers that the local library owns a copy of Audubon's The Birds of America.  He's fascinated by the artistry & is dismayed to find out that 9 of the precious plates have been cut from the book & sold in order to add to the meager funds of Marysville.  And there lies Doug's mission--to make the book whole again.
Overall I think this is a most excellent book for young teens.  It speaks directly to the troubles, both typical & not typical, that come from growing up.  As Doug blossoms in the book it brought me a great feeling of hope in the future, a hope that I'd like to think still comes to kids as they leave those difficult "awkward" years behind.  My only issue with the book was the overwhelming amount of issues that are addressed in it.  For example:  the Vietnam War, alcoholism, domestic violence, learning disabilities, physical disabilities, cancer, etc.  As an adult it was a little much, but I don't think younger readers will be dismayed by them.  Mr. Schmidt has broached a lot of topics that are good to introduce to young adults, & in the guise of an excellent story. 

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Night of the Living Trekkies by Kevin David Anderson & Sam Stall *****

Imagine, if you will, that you've survived two tours in Afghanistan.  Now imagine that you're working at a second-rate hotel in Houston as a glorified bell boy.  Now imagine that the GulfCon Star Trek convention has come to your hotel.  And now, to throw the cherry on top, imagine that everybody is turning into flesh-eating zombies.  And there you have it.  The funniest book I've read in awhile.
Jim Pike doesn't want to do any kind of job with any kind of responsibility ever again after loosing a couple men in Afghanistan.  But when the zombies attack Houston, Jim is left in a position where he has to do the right thing--kill the heck out of every walking dead he comes across.  Along the way he meets "Leia", a beautiful Amazon of a gal who happens to make extra money by dressing up as Princess Leia & making movies where Trekkies go off on Star Wars fans.  Also Gary, the ultimate Trek trivia buff; Willy, a member of a local red shirt league, & a massive Klingon that makes custom blades to sell to the followers of Trekdom.  Throw in also his younger sister who happens to be at the convention also, & you've got a rag-tag group of groupies fighting their way out of the hotel from hell.
Yes, you have to be a Star Trek fan to enjoy this book.  The constant references to the show are hilarious & on the mark every time.  I kept waiting for the story to fall apart, but it never did.  It remained excellent throughout.  I highly recommend it to anyone who loves the show (original, Next Gen, DS9, Voyager, even the cartoon), you will not be disappointed.  And I've gotten my new mantra to say to myself when times are tough:
"Now let's put aside your personal baggage and try to think about how Kirk would handle this."