The Wednesday Wars
It's not easy being in seventh grade--especially when your teacher hates you.
I have been a fan of Gary D. Schmidt for a long time. My first introduction to him as an author was during my YA Literature class in college when we read his novel, “Okay for Now.” These books are written with young adults in mind, but I find that a lot of the topics that are addressed in Schmidt’s work are very adult in nature: war, racism, mental health, death, and teen parenthood just to name a few.
“The Wednesday Wars'' tells the story of young Holling Hoodhood. Holling lives in a perfectly manicured house, with a perfectly manicured lawn, and perfectly manicured car in the driveway, but his life is anything but perfect. Holling lives in Long Island, New York, and he is a seventh grader at Camillo Junior High. Holling likes his friends, but he is convinced that his teacher, Mrs. Baker, hates him. To make matters worse, since Holling is the only Presbyterian kid in his class, he is left alone with Mrs. Baker every Wednesday afternoon while the other kids attend Temple Beth-El or St. Adelbert’s for religious services and instruction.
Holling, convinced that Mrs. Baker is recruiting older kids to “take him out,” finds himself becoming paranoid as he makes his way throughout school and on the playground. When Holling tries to voice his concerns about Mrs. Baker at home, his father, architect for Hoodhood and Associates, tells him that he needs to be on his best behavior towards Mrs. Baker because her brother could be a big potential client for the company.
Although Holling tries to be on his best behavior, it seems as though he can’t avoid countless mishaps (like accidentally setting the two classroom pet rats loose) whenever he is with Mrs. Baker. In what Holling thinks is a cruel, albeit unusual punishment, he is tasked with reading Shakespeare with Mrs. Baker during their Wednesday afternoons together.
As Holling begins to read, he thinks that Mrs. Baker must not know that she gave him something so good. Holling figured that Mrs. Baker would never let him read something with many good curses and action because, after all, this was supposed to be a punishment.
As the school year continues, and Holling reads more Shakespeare, he begins to realize that Mrs. Baker isn’t all bad. There are some more mishaps, but they are balanced out by moments where Holling is able to see Mrs. Baker as more than just his strict, stern teacher. Balancing his developing love for Shakespeare puts Holling in a compromising position after he joins a theater performance of “The Tempest” and ends up with his picture in the local paper wearing yellow tights--just what every seventh grader wants.
As drama continues to unfold in front of Holling, he comes face to face with what war can do to those left at home, and the vicious attitudes that people can adopt towards those from different cultures. This book is full of redemption, but it lays bare the truth of how deep a war can divide and scar a community.
This book was filled with laughter, tears, and everything in between. There were moments when I was literally laughing out loud, and there were also moments when I found myself stunned into silence, but I felt a desire--a need--to know just how the school year ended for young Holling Hoodhood.
This is definitely written with younger readers in mind, but, with that being said, I think there is still plenty of enjoyment that can be offered to older readers. This book did an excellent job at showing how tough it can be to navigate middle school, but it also showed that people are complex, messy, and capable of much more than we may originally assume. The old adage of, “don’t judge a book by its cover,” comes to mind.
4 out of 5 stars.