The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt
A quick trip to the library a few weeks ago resulted in this book being on my nightstand. I’d never heard of this book before, but it caught my attention enough to take it home. Fast forward a few, busy weeks, and I picked it up one night to read. Darn, if I wouldn’t have to say that this has to be one of the best middle grade/young adult books I’ve read in a long time! Schmidt has that ability to create a character, Holling Hoodhood, who is vulnerable, curious, and funny at the same time.
Whatever it means to be a friend, taking a black eye for someone has to be in it.
Goodreads summarizes: In this Newbery Honor-winning novel, Gary D. Schmidt offers an unforgettable antihero. The Wednesday Wars is a wonderfully witty and compelling story about a teenage boy’s mishaps and adventures over the course of the 1967–68 school year in Long Island, New York.
Meet Holling Hoodhood, a seventh-grader at Camillo Junior High, who must spend Wednesday afternoons with his teacher, Mrs. Baker, while the rest of the class has religious instruction. Mrs. Baker doesn’t like Holling—he’s sure of it. Why else would she make him read the plays of William Shakespeare outside class? But everyone has bigger things to worry about, like Vietnam. His father wants Holling and his sister to be on their best behavior: the success of his business depends on it. But how can Holling stay out of trouble when he has so much to contend with? A bully demanding cream puffs; angry rats; and a baseball hero signing autographs the very same night Holling has to appear in a play in yellow tights! As fate sneaks up on him again and again, Holling finds Motivation—the Big M—in the most unexpected places and musters up the courage to embrace his destiny, in spite of himself.
Holling is assigned to Mrs. Baker’s classroom while his peers go to Hebrew school and catechism. Surely, any middle school student and his teacher would be thrilled to have extra time together! Set in the late sixties, Holling goes to Camillo Junior High on Long Island. His sister is transitioning to becoming a “hippie” while his father is concerned with the success of Hoodhood and Associates, the architect firm. Having Mrs. Baker assign him Shakespeare to read is the just cherry on the sundae of his very normal junior high life.
I handed the test in five minutes before the end of the day. Mrs. Baker took it calmly, then reached into her bottom drawer for an enormous red pen with a wide felt tip. “Stand here and we’ll see how you’ve done,” she said, which is sort of like a dentist handing you a mirror and saying, “Sit here and watch while I drill a hole in your tooth.”
The characters, mostly Mrs. Baker and Holling, are dimensional people with flaws, insecurities, and personalities. As the book moves through the school year, against the backdrop of the Vietnam War, an architecture business bid, and principals, the reader gets to understand know the main characters. Of course, I love the author’s choice of Shakespeare as the reading material in Mrs. Baker’s classroom; Holling learns how to interpret, appreciate, and even enjoy some of Shakespeare’s greatest plays. Holling, too, deals with his competitive father, flower child sister, Swieteck brothers and trials typical of a young teen.
The Wednesday Wars is such a poignant novel about that bittersweet time in a young person’s life where the world becomes clear to him. Even reading this as an adult, I found Schmidt’s writing prolific. Sure, there could be some criticisms in terms of the “typical” elements of a book set in the 1960s, and I can see those. However, the time and place really fit the journey of Holling. This is one of those novels that has a plot – boy reads Shakespeare in class against the backdrop of a changing time in America – which could have easily been a dud. Schmidt’s delicate writing really worked to make these characters poignant, not overly sentimental. Put this Newbery winner on your reading list!
Then put all those together.”