Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Wednesday Wars, Gary D. Schmidt

I had big plans of getting lots of J/YA lit read this summer, but due to school and work and almost constant visitors, I have failed considerably. But I just finished The Wednesday Wars, and so I haven't failed too much, because it is one of my favorite things I've read in a long time. It won a Newbery Honor in 2008, but I've heard rumblings from some (and when I say this, I mean from nerdy people on Goodreads) who believe it really should have won the medal over Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! that year. I haven't read Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!, but I'll put in my vote for Gary Schmidt anyway.

It takes place in the late 1960's and the basic plot premise is simple: protagonist Holling Hoodhood (what an amazing protagonist name, first of all) is stuck with his seventh grade English teacher, Mrs. Baker, on Wednesday afternoons (who he is convinced hates him), and eventually, they start to read Shakespeare together. There are so many good things about this book, the first being that it made me laugh a lot of the times and made me cry other times, but I feel like this is what I say about all of my favorite books. I'm trying to think of some better way to describe it, that quality that makes one laugh and then cry, other than just saying once again, I laughed! I cried! I think the only other way to describe it is just good writing. I think good writing involves having a sense of humor and a heart, and being smart, and that describes this book. Second of all, I feel like the first-person point of view of this book is really spot on and realistic. Holling Hoodhood is living in a world of Vietnam, a world where Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. are about to be assassinated, and he is also living in a world of really mean spirited eighth graders and deceptively cruel fathers, and the lens through which he shows us all of this seems true to reality: not overly mature or cynical (as in many YA novels), but at the same time, by the end, (as most children are), more mature than most adults. Third of all, I love the development of all the secondary characters, especially Mrs. Baker. Mrs. Baker is one of those amazingly complex characters that I wish I could have written, and I love her. I also love Holling's best friend Danny Hupfer, and Mai Thi and Mrs. Bigio.

Other things I loved: Schmidt's surpisingly lyrical descriptions of the changing of the seasons; Holling and his sister's day in Central Park; the Mickey Mantle scene; the camping trip. Oh, and then of course there's the Shakespeare. Shakespeare is hiding behind everything, and Holling's interpretations are all brilliant. Like I said, it's a pretty brilliant book.

I am also thankful I found an old hardcover copy with the old cover, pictured above. The chalk-script-on-a-blackboard cover with Holling and the Bard facing off is a million times better than the paperback version, as discussed here. Granted, the paperback version isn't horrible, but something about the white background and brighter colors seems cheesy when compared with the original cover. Why do publishers do this to us? I'm sure the answer somehow involves the word "money," but still, I'll never get it.


  1. Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! was not a very good book.
    I believe they changed the cover for the paperback to appeal more to kids. While I've read Wednesday Wars a few times, and enjoyed it, a lot of kids are put off by the cover and the fact that there's Shakespeare on it. But I've seen several kids grab the paperback off the shelf cause it's bright and colorful, even though I don't think it accurately reflects the plot.

  2. Word. Way to school me, Sam! Geez, it's like when you're working in kids lit you want to appeal to kids, or something.

  3. also, funny story. like right after you posted this and said you liked that cover, at my internship, the librarian was making a brochure and she used the paperback cover cause she said she liked it better. haha.