Monday, April 29, 2013
The Wednesday Wars
The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Holling Hoodhood knows that his seventh grade English teacher Mrs. Baker hates him with a heat whiter than the sun. His evidence: when he gets stuck with her every Wednesday, she assigns him Shakespeare's plays as extra reading.
Holling tells his story of growing up during the Vietnam era, when Mickey Mantle played for the Yankees, Robert Kennedy was running for president, and schoolchildren practiced hiding under their desks in case of nuclear war. But Holling has other things on his mind: fresh-baked cream puffs, a pair of embarrassing yellow tights, and being forced to read Shakespeare every Wednesday.
Holling narrates the humorous and heartbreaking events of his life with the same slightly baffled tone, proving that no era is easy to come of age in. His relationship with his family, friends, and the inscrutable Mrs. Baker are the core of the story, and they often develop in unexpected ways. Holling has to take bewildering world events, tribulations at school and trouble at home in stride, and he does it all with helpful insults from the Bard of Avon.
I may have rated this book higher except I think Schmidt fails in his portrayal of Holling's parents - particularly Mr. Hoodhood, who never does the right thing and is image- and money-obsessed. He's an unlikable caricature without a single redeeming moment. And Mrs. Hoodhood is a near nonentity in the story. It's unfortunate that these characters are given short shrift, especially in light of the well-developed characters at Holling's school, particularly the prickly Mrs. Baker.
Still, this book was a Newbery Honor book in 2008, and it's sweet without being cloying. For fans of historical fiction and realistic fiction, The Wednesday Wars may win you over.