Last Updated on September 26, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 827
Doug, a boy in junior high, is the main character of Okay for Now. He is the youngest member of his family and has two older brothers, Lucas and Christopher. One of his most prized possessions is a signed New York Yankees jacket that his friend Holling gives him. At the beginning of the novel, Doug and his family live in Long Island, New York. When they move to a smaller town, Marysville, upstate, Doug feels isolated from the kids at his new school. He worries that people will judge him based on the poor reputation of his father and brothers; this insecurity, coupled with his frustration at his troubled home life, leads him to occasionally act out at school. He spends much of his free time at the library, where he discovers a love of drawing. In particular, he learns to draw birds in an attempt to cope with the problems he deals with at home. Over the course of a year, Doug must confront many serious problems, from dealing with his turbulent relationship with his abusive father and brothers to navigating his first love, with Lil Spicer, and Lil's subsequent illness.
Lucas is Doug's oldest brother. When the novel opens, Lucas is away fighting in the Vietnam War. When Lucas returns home, he has lost both his legs and his vision. He is initially cruel to Doug, but they eventually reconcile as Doug helps Lucas come to terms with his injuries and experiences from the war. Lucas recovers his eyesight and begins to adapt to his new life. He decides to get a job so that he can put Christopher through college and is eventually offered a position as an assistant gym coach at the junior high school. Though at first he worries he won't physically be able to do the job, he proves himself wrong and succeeds in his new role.
Doug's father is abusive and cruel. At the beginning of the novel, he works at Culross Lumber, but he is eventually fired for fighting with his boss; this is what forces the Swieteck family to relocate to Marysville. Mr. Swieteck is naturally pessimistic and struggles to control his temper, and these traits lead him to behave abusively—both physically and emotionally—toward his wife and sons. His eldest sons take cues from his behavior and have become cruel and abusive themselves. Doug resents the way his father treats his family, particularly his mother, and his worst fear is that he is turning into his father. Doug's father shows signs of changing over the course of the novel, eventually returning Joe Pepitone's jacket to Doug and telling the police it was his friend Ernie who robbed Spicer's Deli, in order to clear Christopher's name.
Christopher is the middle Swieteck brother. He is cruel to Doug and gravitates toward other young men who seem headed for delinquency, though he shows a softer side to his character when he helps the injured Lucas into the house. The police and community falsely believe he is the one who robbed the hardware store and Spicer's Deli, but Mr. Swieteck eventually helps to clear his name.
Ernie is a friend of Doug's father who helps him get a job at the Ballard Paper Mill. Mrs. Swieteck worries that her husband's being around Ernie again will keep him out drinking all night. Ernie is a shady character who ends up robbing Spicer's Deli; Doug realizes this when he sees Ernie wearing Joe Pepitone's jacket, which was stolen from Doug.
Mr. Ballard is Doug's father's and Ernie's boss. He's kind to Doug and plays horseshoes with him.
Lillian "Lil" Spicer
Lil Spicer is the intelligent, no-nonsense daughter of the man who owns Spicer's Deli. She meets Doug on his first day in town as she's riding her bike and remarks that he's probably never been in a library. She later offers Doug a job making deliveries for the deli. Doug develops feelings for Lil, and they eventually kiss. Toward the end of the novel, Lil falls gravely ill and is hospitalized, but Doug promises to stay by her side.
Mr. Powell lets Doug into the library half an hour early and recommends reading biographies. He works with Mrs. Merriam, the librarian, whom Doug doesn't like when they first meet because she seems strict and dismissive. Mr. Powell teaches Doug to draw birds from a folio by John James Audubon that the city is selling off plate by plate.
Peattie is Doug's initially condescending principal at Washington Irving Junior High. When Doug is called into his office after cutting class, he makes a deal with Principal Peattie: if Christopher is proven not to be the culprit in the recent robberies, the principal will return his plate from the Audubon folio to the public library. At the end of the novel, Principal Peattie returns the plate and admits to Doug that he was wrong about him.