Book Review: The Wednesday Wars

Wednesday Wars1. Bibliography

Schmidt, Gary D. 2009. The Wednesday Wars. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. ISBN 9780547237602.

2. Plot Summary

Holling Hoodhood, a sole Presbyterian in a class full of Catholic and Jewish students, believes his teacher, Mrs. Baker, hates him – hates his guts. When his classmates leave school on Wednesday to attend Catechism or Hebrew School, Holling now finds himself alone with Mrs. Baker every Wednesday afternoon, where they begin to study Shakespeare together. As the year goes on, the news from the Vietnam war grows progressively worse, as do the relationships between Holling’s family members. Seventh grade romance, embarrassing costumes, parental expectations, escaped rats, and the point of Shakespeare – Holling grapples with them all while trying to determine if Mrs. Baker does, in fact, hate his guts. Maybe she’s a real person, after all?

3. Critical Analysis (Spoilers)

Gary Schmidt brings his A-game to The Wednesday Wars in this funny-yet-serious coming of age story. His characters have depth and grow as the story progresses, most notably the main characters. The largest question to Holling’s believability is whether or not a normal 7th grader could read and understand Shakespeare’s plays as well as Holling does. The portrayal of the frequent cruelty of junior high students, however, is spot-on. Holling faces death threats on a regular basis and is the subject of ridicule when an older student plasters pictures of Holling in an embarrassing costume all over the school. Yet readers also see the bravery junior high students can show, as well, especially when Danny Hupfer defends Mai Tai as she is subjected to racially motivated bullying.

Set in Long Island, New York, during the 1967-1968 school year, The Wednesday Wars depicts an accurate representation of American life during the 1960s. The fear of atomic warfare and the uselessness of hiding under desks; the political tension from the Civil Rights Movement; the anxiety of loved ones serving in the Vietnam War. While the authenticity of the story is generally high, I must wonder: Did Schmidt choose the less probable outcome when the story ends happily with Mrs. Baker’s husband returning after being missing in action? Was it not much more probable for Lieutenant Baker to have never been found? This is my only challenge to the story’s authenticity.

4. Review Excerpts

2007 – Publishers Weekly Best Children’s Book

2007 – Publishers Weekly Best Books of the Year

2008 – ALA Notable Books for Children

2008 – Newbery Honor

From School Library Journal: “A moving, compelling, often humorous novel.”

From Horn Book Magazine: “Ultimately, Mrs. Baker steps out from behind her desk as a multilayered individual who helps Holling (often through their discussions of Shakespeare’s plays) to dare to choose his own ending rather than follow the dictates of others. Schmidt rises above the novel’s conventions to create memorable and believable characters.”

From Publishers Weekly: “Unlike most Vietnam stories, this one ends happily, as Schmidt rewards the good guys with victories that, if not entirely true to the period, deeply satisfy.”

From Booklist: “Holling’s unwavering, distinctive voice offers a gentle, hopeful, moving story of a boy who, with the right help, learns to stretch beyond the limitations of his family, his violent times, and his fear, as he leaps into his future with his eyes and his heart wide open.”

5. Connections

-Read in a language arts class at the same time a social studies class studies the Vietnam War.

-Read in a language arts class at the same time a social studies class studies studies Martin Luther King, Jr.

-Recommend to library users who enjoy a good laugh.

-Listen to the music that Holling’s sister, Heather, liked to blare from her room.

(Created in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the TWU course LS5603.20 Literature for Children and Young Adults)

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