The Wednesday Wars. Shakespeare, running track, Vietnam, cream puffs.
I enjoy reading, and I read books from many sources. The online book club Modern Mrs. Darcy has been a good source for me, especially sourcing novels written by a wide range of authors.
This fall, that wide range included local author Charlie Lovett and his novel The Bookman’s Tale. An excellent and creative Shakespeare-themed mystery, Lovett’s novel is definitely not for young readers and teens. But in the follow-up to reading that book, the MMD book club offered suggestions for additional Shakespeare-influenced novels. And that’s how I found The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt.
Seventh-grader Holling Hoodhood is caught in the middle. He lives in the middle of town. He is caught between the large group of north-side residents attending Hebrew school on Wednesday afternoons, and an equally large number of south-siders at Catechism at the same time. Holling, a Presbyterian, has nowhere to be on Wednesday afternoons.
So literature teacher Mrs. Baker stays with Holling all afternoon. Every Wednesday. It’s not a peaceful time.
“I handed the test in five minutes before the end of the day. Mrs. Baker took it calmly, then reached into her bottom drawer for an enormous red pen with a wide felt tip. “Stand here and we’ll see how you’ve done,” she said, which is sort of like a dentist handing you a mirror and saying, “Sit here and watch while I drill a hole in your tooth.”
To my surprise, this Newbery Honor book of 2008 is set in the late 1960s in Long Island against a backdrop of the Vietnam War. Though I was a second-grader at that time, five years younger than Holling Hoodhood, I can relate to many aspects of the story. Watching Walter Cronkite. My parents discussing the war. Older teens rebelling against the establishment. The shock and horror of Bobby Kennedy’s asassination.
Some aspects of the story will seem dated to many of today’s younger readers, though middle-graders studying the Vietnam era could find it relatable. And reading Shakespeare’s plays is a major plot line, supplying Holling with retorts, both mental and spoken, to situations encountered by most of us in those trying middle school times.
“Vengeance is sweet. Vengeance taken when the vengee isn’t sure who the venger is, is sweeter still.”
As far as running track and cream puffs, well, read the novel yourself and see.
All together, The Wednesday Wars was a surprisingly good read and, for me, a bit of a trip down memory lane. If you’re of the same general age, you might find it an engaging way to revisit those years of your life. If you have a child who loves Shakespeare or studies history, they might enjoy it too.