I had heard this book mentioned over and over in the kidlitosphere, paged through it at the bookstore one day, and ultimately decided to hold off on buying it. When I saw a pile of the books at the Scholastic warehouse sale, I decided to grab a copy and read it when I had some extra time. Not a day later, I saw “The Wednesday Wars” bandied about as a possible Newbery winner, and decided to give it a shot. I can’t tell you how glad I am that I read it!
Holling Hoodhood is doomed; it is only the first day of school and his teacher hates him. Immediately, the reader thinks, “No teacher hates a student! And definitely not on the first day of school!” However, Mrs. Baker has a good reason to hate Holling- at 1:55pm each and every Wednesday, the students in her class board two buses and head off to Hebrew school or catechism classes. All of her students except for Holling, the lone Presbyterian in the class. He just knows Mrs. Baker hates him, because she had the prospect of a free hour at the end of every Wednesday and it was cruelly taken away from her by one Mr. Holling Hoodhood. The worst part of all? No one believes that Mrs. Baker hates him. Not his mother, not his father, the architect trying to win a bid for the Baker Sports Emporium, and not his sister, because honestly, when does your older sister ever believe her little brother? Holling is forced to stay at school during that long afternoon every Wednesday, where he begins the year by running errands and doing cleaning for Mrs. Baker. However, after the first few weeks, Mrs. Baker informs him that they are going to begin reading Shakespeare together. As any 7th grade boy would react to this news, Holling is none too pleased. Obviously, this is even more proof that his teacher hates his guts! However, as the book progresses, Holling actually enjoys some Shakespeare.
I absolutely LOVED this book. What a powerful story, and what a perfect “boy book”. First of all, Holling Hoodhood might be my favorite character name, ever. How great is it? Holling?? And the alliteration! Plus, his voice is realistic and I felt like he could be a student in my class. He was so real! Also, Mrs. Baker is on my list of “Awesome Teachers in Children’s Literature”. Mr. Hoodhood might be my favorite character, though. He is not particularly likeable- in fact, he is downright unlikeable at some points. However, he is such a perfect picture of the man stuck in his ways while the world around him changes. In some ways, he reminded me of Kevin’s dad on “The Wonder Years”. In fact, a few parts of the book reminded me of “The Wonder Years”.
I also appreciated the setting of the novel. Sometimes, I feel like historical fiction books are just realistic fiction that happen to be set in the past. In other words, the setting is just an after-thought, not particularly important to the story. This is not the case in “The Wednesday Wars”. Holling is living in 1960’s Long Island. The Vietnam War is raging, Martin Luther King, Jr. is marching on Washington, DC, and schools are practicing atomic bomb drills. The time period is a vital part of the plot without being overbearing. Holling’s everyday life is affected by the global events surrounding him. Mrs. Baker’s husband is fighting in Vietnam and his sister is slowly becoming a hippie (much to his father’s chagrin).
The book is not all serious, though. There is quite a bit of slapstick humor in here, and I laughed out loud a few times. I know the boys in my class will appreciate the slapstick humor even more than I did. It’s typical middle school boy humor, but it never crosses the line to gross or overdone. It’s very tasteful and sometimes even requires reading between the lines. I have a feeling I will end up recommending this novel as a humorous boy story, rather than historical fiction. My students will be more willing to read it that way!
My only issue with this story is in the ending. Not that there is anything wrong with it, per se. I just felt like it was a combination of rushed/drawn out. While those sound like opposite ideas, let me explain. About 10 pages before the end, I thought the story was over. I was thinking in my head, “Hmm, I wonder what’s at the end here? A preview of another book?” I was surprised to see the story continued on for a few more pages. However, I enjoyed those pages and felt like the last page or so were rushed! A strange combination, I know. All in all, though, I LOVED this book. If you haven’t gotten a chance to read it, I highly recommend that you do as soon you can. Move it to the top of your to-be-read pile!
One of my favorite quotes in “The Wednesday Wars”:
That’s the way it is in the real world.
It’s not always smiles. Sometimes the real world is like Hamlet. A little scared. Unsure. A little angry. Wishing that you could fix something that you can’t fix. Hoping that maybe something would fix itself, but thinking that hoping that way is stupid.
And sometimes the real world is more like Bobby Kennedy, who was a sure bet for the Democratic nomination and probably would have been president of the United States and stopped the war, but who got shot at point-blank range.