For This Kid, the Worst Bullies Are at Home

I loved this book so much that I sent a copy to each of my three adult sons. To be honest, I wished they were kids again and I could read it aloud with them, like I did with countless stories when they were growing up with me.

Gary D. Schmidt’s Okay for Now tells the story of Doug Swieteck, 14, who has just moved to Marysville, New York.

“I hate this town,” he says. But maybe he actually detests a father whose abuse made me want to scream, an older brother who stole Doug’s most treasured possession, and an oldest brother who used to beat him up before being sent to war in Vietnam.

Doug Swieteck’s voice is a masterful creation that will tickle your funny bone and touch your heart. This book is funny, very funny, but life for this boy is hardly fun. He finds refuge and the artist inside him at the town library, where a rare book of Audubon bird plates speaks to him like nothing else in his life does.

Except for Lil Spicer, a girl whose words would repel most everyone. Except Doug Swieteck. Doug gets a delivery job at Lil’s dad’s store, leading the boy to more tests and quirky discoveries. His oldest brother returns from Vietnam a changed man in ways that made me wish I had not judged him so harshly. His story enriches a book already full of engrossing characters and experiences in Doug’s life.

Doug Swieteck sees so much more than anyone around him, other than Lil, a librarian, and his dad’s boss. I wanted him to yell out, speak his mind, let it be known he would not stand for how others treated him. But he shows remarkable restraint, making me think he knew it was best. But, in the end, Doug Swieteck is blindsided in a way that I did not see coming.

Newberry Honor winner Gary D. Schmidt writes on a 1953 Royal typewriter and his works are timeless masterpieces, written for kids, young adults, and big kids like me.

Okay for Now is even better than the earlier accompanying book, The Wednesday Wars, which is no small achievement. I read several other Schmidt books and was especially drawn to Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy. His stories grab me like no other author has done for years.

Via Alpina: Don’t Look If Heights Scare You

The Via Alpina boasts numbers that would intimidate even the most ardent long-distance trekkers.

The walk, which begins in Triest, Italy on the Adriatic Sea and ends in Monaco on the Mediterranean, spans 1,200 miles, travels through eight countries, and (close your eyes if you are scared of heights) ascends and descends nearly 700,000 feet. It also takes trekkers through the best the Alps offers on a path shaped like a giant, rounded mountain.

Before you cross it off your list, you could consider choosing a section or one country (Switzerland?) and save the rest for later.

Brandon Wilson and his wife Cheryl, though, wanted it all, and in Over the Top and Back Again: Hiking X the Alps, Brandon narrates their 110 days of walking through Italy, Slovenia, Austria, Germany, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, France, and Monaco. They stay mostly in huts or albergues. Most of the time, they travel on the red trail, rated the toughest, even though Cheryl battles knee problems. She takes a couple of breaks to rest her knee and meets up with Brandon later.

Brandon and Cheryl are no ordinary couple, having completed other tough treks, including a walk across Tibet. Longtime Hawaii residents, they secured a one-year visa in Italy to allow time for the Alpine walk. The Via Alpina offers accommodations, but Brandon complains about accessibility; some were closed or full when they arrived. He was also unhappy when accommodation hosts complained that he had not called ahead. But, he was intent on living in the moment, easier to do on a walk like the Camino de Santiago, another trek Brandon completed–twice.

I was drawn to Over the Top and Back Again because Sue and I are always looking for our next adventure. Brandon’s descriptions and honesty helped me gain insight about the Via Alpina and I compared it to our Alpine walk on the Tour du Mont Blanc, which travels 110 miles with 60,000 feet of elevation change, slightly less climbing and descending per mile.

Brandon describes a host of problems he and his wife endured on the trek, but, in the end, he is proud (as he should be) that they completed it. And, it reminded him why he walks. The self-discovery, simplicity, and rhythm of walking with an up-close view of Earth’s raw beauty.

Could we do it? Ten times the mileage of the Tour du Mont Blanc, 11 times the elevation. But, it is not a race, so with breaks, we could take even more than ten times the days. But that presents an issue: Linger too long in the Alps, and weather will end your trek, like it or not. Distance trekking is never easy, but that’s why Brandon and Cheryl (as well as Sue and I) love it.

Should we try it? Or, you could go first and let us know how you like it.