Friday, August 10, 2012

The Wednesday Wars

After a hot and dry summer, it is feeling like early October.  The high temperature today is only in the low 60s and it is raining.  We need the good soaking rain we're receiving, but it isn't exactly sailing weather!  This is a book review I wrote last month but haven't gotten around to posting.

Gary D Schmidt, The Wednesday Wars (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2007), 264 pages.

It’s 1967 and Holling Hoodhood lives on Long Island and is entering the 7th Grade.  The world is in turmoil.   His classmates are all Jewish or Catholic.  Holling, a Presbyterian, is left as the only remnant of the Protestant Reformation, his other two Protestant friends having moved during the summer.  The religious differences aren't really a problem except on Wednesday afternoon, when the Catholic kids attend catechism and the Jewish kids go to study with the Rabbi.  Holling is left to the care of Mrs. Baker, his English teacher whose husband is an officer in the Marine Corp and deployed to Vietnam.  Holling is sure Mrs. Baker hates his guts.  This feeling is strengthened when she decided they should spend their Wednesday afternoon reading Shakespeare.   Mixed into all this are two escaped rats, the problem of eighth graders, a principal whose goal is to become a dictator of a small country, an older sister who is a flower child desiring love and peace for everybody but Holling, and his father’s drive to be the top architect in the community, a business he says he’s building for his son.  His dad isn’t very supportive of his son; instead he fears his son misdeeds in Mrs. Baker’s class might sabotage is firm bid for the new Baker Sporting Good Company and later for a new Junior High School.   As the story unfolds, Water Cronkite is reporting on the escalating war in Vietnam and the parallel rise in the peace movement and the music of a generation is heard (mostly coming from Holling’s sister’s room). 

The book is separated in monthly chapters.   The reader feels the insecurity and embarrassment of a seventh grade boy as he straddles that strange territory between being a child and becoming a man.  Hollings finds himself in a community Shakespeare play in which he’s required to wear tights with feathers on his butt.  This results in great humiliation when his picture appears in the local paper.  Hollings also becomes the strongest runner on the school’s cross-country team, a source of pride that results in his winning a savings bond and also causes problems with the 8th graders whom he beat in the race.   As the school year moves into spring, he begins to likes Mrs. Baker (she even takes him to a Yankee game when his father reneges).  Sadly, she also learns that her husband is missing in action in Vietnam, but continues on teaching.   Hollings father is controlling.  When Hollings sister speaks favorably of the large crowds gathering to protest the war, his father says it’s good that right and wrong isn’t determined by math.   Shortly afterwards she runs away, heading to California with her boyfriend.  He is also tough on Hollings, always holding out the carrot that he will one day lead his architecture firm.  Finally, in Holling’s circle of friends, there is the girl he likes (whose father has the competing architecture firm) and a Vietnamese refugee.      

This is a fast moving book that is written for middle schoolers.  In a way, everything gets tied together too neat (Mr. Baker is rescued and reunited with Mrs. Baker, Hollings uses his saving bond to send his sister money to get home, although etc).    The book has lots of good values.  Hollings learns what true friendship is when he equates it to the willingness to take a black eye for someone. (103)

 Even though the book was written for middle school students, I found it enjoyable as it often took me back to my 5th grade school year (1967-1968).  


  1. Excellent review of an interesting story. 1967 was a pivotal time in US history, a very apt stage for a protagonist emerging from childhood.

  2. Good to process the times we have lived!

    Aloha from Honolulu
    Comfort Spiral

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  3. I liked a lot of YA stuff when I was young and still do, although I like a little whooo wooo in mine

  4. Writing about that period is very polarized. So it must have been good to read something where the public events are to the background and the personal are to the fore.
    Probably makes the public like the Kent State shootings and the assassinations far more powerful to today's audience since it makes it real, not historic. In that way Anne Franks diary did for the extermination of peoples in the 1940's, during the 60's and 70's.

  5. glad you got a cool morning...rained most of the night which gave us a cool one too...the premise of the book sounds good...the too neat end, i understand that as well and is always a bit off putting for me....

  6. Interesting read, even if you say it's written for middle schoolers; the message is there and most of us read at that level anyway. My daughter had to read a Carl Hiaasen book (required reading, believe it or not) a couple of years ago for middle school. I think it was Hoot...but I'm not sure.

    1. Scarlet, I'm not surprised she had to read Hiaasen. He actually writes books for middle schoolers in addition to his books that have more "adult-like" situations

  7. It sounds interesting and LI was really Jewish and Catholic then with some Protestants--always felt sorry for them :)

  8. Writing against the backdrop of some significant historic event is something I usually find interesting.

    Also reminds me I still need to read the Hardy Boys book I got in my stocking last Christmas!

  9. Sage: What a moment preserved in time! This book sounds fascinating!!

  10. we are still in summer, summer, summer. Hot and humid which for a runner is not ideal yet it is summer.
    Just got my first kindle, but it doesn't seem that I'll buy this book...

  11. Being from LI around that time you made me want to get this book!

    I always say I never met a Protestant until I went to college. That's not quite true but..