Doug Swieteck does not draw. “Chumps draw. Girls with pink bicycle chains draw.” Doug does not. At least not until he encounters John J. Audobon’s amazing illustrations on display at the local library. In spite of the title, things are not OK for Doug or his family. His Dad is fast with his fists and maybe a bit too fast with his mouth and loses his job. So the family moves to the upstate New York town of Marysville for a new start. As far as Doug is concerned, Marysville is stupid. They don’t even have a pool where he could escape the oppressive summer heat.
Gradually, things start to improve for Doug. Mr. Powell at the library helps him discover that maybe he does draw after all. His new friend Lil helps him get a delivery job at her family’s deli. As Doug makes weekly grocery deliveries, he encounters and comes to know the citizens of Maryville, from the eccentric writer at the edge of town to the old man who asks Doug’s help to do odd jobs around the house. But just as things start to look up for Doug, it all starts to go horribly wrong. His older brother, who enjoys making Doug’s life miserable, is accused of robbing the deli. Soon, the formerly friendly town residents are treating Doug as if he was also a thief just waiting for an opportunity. Maybe Doug’s Dad is right when he says that things never go well when you’re feeling good. Doug’s personal struggles play out on the backdrop of a town trying to come to terms with the consequences of the Vietnam War. Things become both better and worse for Doug’s family when his oldest brother, Lucas, returns home from the war horribly wounded.
This story moved me deeply. Not only did I come to know and care about Doug. But even most of the villains in the story have a human side. The abusive side of Doug’s Dad is disturbing and some of the incidents are upsetting. Some plot lines strain belief a bit, seeming just a bit too pat to be true. But the book is so good and so well written, that I could easily forgive those minor flaws. This is a complex book, where happy endings don’t appear out of the blue. Prepare to be touched, saddened and uplifted by this moving story.