The Wednesday Wars is a book that was recommended to me by a school teacher.The book being about a school teacher, I was naturally a little bit dubious as to the literary excellence of this book. But let me tell you: this book is great (I guess school teachers know what they’re talking about after all)! The Wednesday Wars mixes baseball, rats, Shakespeare, and the 1960s in an interesting and creative way, telling the story of Holling Hoodhood, a seventh grade kid.
Holling’s teacher is Mrs. Baker, who, he claims, hates him with a hate ‘whiter than the sun.’ Holling is the only Presbyterian, stuck in the middle of a town that is half Catholic and half Jewish. So he’s the only one who’s at school on Wednesday afternoons, alone with Mrs. Baker. She gives him jobs to do, including cleaning the cage of the class rats. After Holling accidentally lets the rats go, they move in to the roof above the classroom. For much of the book, Holling feels like he is the one always singled out for anything bad or difficult.
After Holling’s finished most of the jobs he can do on Wednesday afternoon, his teacher assigns him Shakespeare to read. Throughout the book he reads four of Shakespeare’s play and even participates in acting one out. The Shakespeare plays and his resulting conversations with his teacher play a large part in his development. In a way, each play that he reads covers an aspect of his life at that time, but it’s only near the end of the book that he begins to recognize that.
A large strand in the book’s plot is Holling’s family. His parents, though appearing to be loving, are mainly indifferent to his life. They fail to show up for his performance of The Tempest, and don’t even come to his track meet, where he is the only seventh grader on the varsity team. One of the best parts of the book is when Holling helps his sister. She had left in a VW Bug to go to California to find herself. When she calls from Minneapolis, only Holling decides to help her, even if it means cashing his war bond. The money he sends her is enough for her to get home.
Being written from the perspective of a twelve-year-old, the book has some predictable but enjoyable elements. Holling, throughout the book, is on a roller coaster. From his perspective, things get really good quickly, and then bad very quickly. When his hero, Mickey Mantle, doesn’t sign a baseball for him, Holling is crushed, as he is on his roller-coaster relationship with Meryl Lee, a girl in his class.
What’s neat about the book, though, is seeing the change in perspective in the main character. Throughout the book, he becomes more aware of coming-of-age, and what really matters in the world. He begins to question his parent’s views, and more often sides with his sister, who is against the war in Vietnam. His essay questions about Shakespeare’s plays for Mrs. Baker begin to have much more depth and understanding, particularly after an event with Meryl Lee.
All in all, the book covers so many facets of a twelve-year-old’s life that it’s very hard to review it. This is partly what makes the book so believable–it looks like a real seventh-grader’s life in the 1960s. Gary Schmidt has done a masterful job with this book; it’s one of my favorite fiction books that I’ve read this year. I highly recommend that you check out The Wednesday Wars from your local library; it’s not a very long read and it will be well worth it!
Published on 18 December, 2010. Last updated on