Newberys Read This Year: 10
Newberys Left for Goal: 5
Newberys Left for Total: 19
Book: The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt
“War…what is it good for? Absolutely nothing!”
In my heart of hearts I can’t say I always agree with that sentiment. While wars come at an incalculable human price, they can lead to good things—the foundation of this country, the abolition of slavery, and the toppling of an empire created and run by a genocidal madman immediately come to mind.
And again, when it comes to literary wars, that just might not always be the case. Well, it was when I read The Chocolate War (a sorry sight of a book for young people, good riddance to it!) in my YA Lit class library school. It wasn’t exactly true when I read The Lemonade War (nothing wrong with it, I had just hoped that it would consist of sterner stuff) earlier this year. And certainly not in the case of Mr. Schmidt’s delightful offering.
In my mind’s eye, I envisioned that this book had a greater circulation in my library. I chose to read it because I like to keep abreast of what is popular with my patrons. Turns out that it has an incredibly low circulation, and if I hadn’t read it would be in danger of weeding. I approached the book with some trepidation, I think largely due to its cover (and, yes, the old adage comes to mind and is entirely appropriate here) because something about it reminded me of The Chocolate War.
At any rate, this book and I turned out to have a marriage of true minds as it contained so many craft elements I love (admirable yet flawed characters, authenticity of plot and situation, relatable conflict, and realistic character growth for starters) and combined them with general things I love, such as Shakespeare, a crafty teacher, and characters that unexpectedly come through for each other.
Our protagonist here is Holling Hoodhood, the only 7th grade Presbyterian in a 1967 Long Island school that sends the Jewish kids to Hebrew School every Wednesday at 1:45 and the Catholic kids to Catechism 10 minutes later. As the only kid with nowhere to go, Holling must spend his Wednesday afternoons with his English teacher and antagonist, Mrs. Baker, whom Holling is convinced is devoid of the milk of human kindness and hates him.
And so the Wednesday wars begin. They involve rats and cream puffs, Mickey Mantle and the Vietnam War, and eventually William Shakespeare. In October, Mrs. Baker decides that she and Holling have been “wasting their opportunities” and that they will spend their Wednesdays reading The Merchant of Venice. Holling is about as enthusiastic as you might imagine, but toads, beetles, bats! he unexpectedly discovers that he enjoys the experience, and when Mrs. Baker assigns a new play each month, he is receptive to the idea.
Throughout the year, Holling strives mightily through The Tempest, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, Julius Caesar, Hamlet, and Much Ado About Nothing (the best play ever). Each time the play never fails to affect him in some way, whether providing him with new language to use, courage to try a new experience, strength to endure paper bullets of the brain hailed on him by the other students, integrity to remedy an injustice, or conviction to stand up for what he believes.
Along the way, Holling discovers that far from being his enemy, Mrs. Baker is a worthy ally with method in her madness as she coaches him through literature, cross country track, and life itself. But lest you think she is too much of a good thing, rest assured that she is not perfect: their relationship suffers the occasional setback through faults and missteps on both their parts, and she has some trying personal situations of her own that she must navigate. All in all, she is just the authentic type of heroine I love to find in a story.
So while parting is such sweet sorrow as I wrap this up, just know that I ended up racing through the last pages, so eager to see how it all turned out. I also ended up a bit of a sobbing mess as you might if you read this worthy book. Know that you might also end up laughing oneself into stitches and wishing that this merry war could serve as a model for the real thing.
**Bold phrases are credited with being coined by Shakespeare. Some are adapted to fit tense and person reference.