The Wednesday Wars

Of all the kids in the seventh grade at Camillo Junior High, there was one kid that Mrs. Baker hated with heat whiter than the sun.   

Me. 

-first sentence of The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt

From Amazon:

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.

 

If you are looking for a book to make you laugh, cry, and thoroughly enjoy the reading of… let me tell you, I have the perfect book for you. 

I first read The Wednesday Wars several years ago. I gave it five stars. I recently read it again to see if it was as good as I remembered, and I had my daughter read it too.

There was a bit of trepidation in this move. When you pick up a book to read again or offer it to someone else to read, there is a wondering if the book will hold up. You wonder if you will love it as much as you did the first time you read it. I was thrilled when my daughter loved it too, and for me, it was just as good the second time around, maybe better.

Told from the perspective of seventh grader Holling Hoodhood, The Wednesday Wars follows his seventh grade year in Mrs. Baker’s class, a teacher who hates him. Even worse, every Wednesday he is forced to be one-on-one with her because every one else in his class attends religion classes. Because she hates him, Mrs. Baker decides to use the time to study Shakespeare and Holling, well let’s just say he learns to love it in spite of himself.  

The humor in this book is so great. I would often laugh out loud as I read. I hope this encourages my boys to pick it up, as they often asked, "What's so funny?" to which I would reply, "You'd have to read it to understand." At the same time the moments of vulnerability and the moments when Mrs. Baker (who, spoiler alert, doesn’t hate him) sees Holling and actively gets involved in his life had me in tears. (For the record, my daughter didn't cry... maybe it's a mom thing.)

The backdrop of the Vietnam War and what life was like for Americans at home during this time adds another layer of depth that makes this book special. The strong presence of Shakespeare made me want to read his plays (in fact, I actually bought a book of Shakespeare's plays after I read it the first time!). 

There are also times when events happen that feel too good to be true. But there is enough of the harder parts of life that as a reader, I didn’t mind the jumps the author took to make good things happen for Holling. 

My one criticism is that the ending fell a little flat. I was so engaged in this book and would literally put it down and say to my kids, “I love this books so much.” However, the final few chapters felt a little off. The ending is fine, good even, I just felt like it was missing something. 

Regardless, this book is a treasure. It is “just swell," and I hope you and your kids read it.

Have I convinced you? Then, toads, beetles and bats, what are you waiting for! Find a copy of The Wednesday Wars (and a copy of Shakespeare if you dare) and get reading! 

Bonus: I have heard the audio version of this book is a good one. I have added it to our things-to-listen-to-on-our-road-trip list. I think it is one our whole family will enjoy.

Readers 10 and up

 

PS Reader age recommendations are just that, recommendations. I list them, oftentimes pulled right off of Amazon, to give you a general guide.

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