Name of Book: The Wednesday Wars
By: Gary D. Schmidt
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Copyright Date: 2009
Number of Pages: 182 (Nook edition)
Format: Coming of age, middle grade fiction
Reason for Reading: It was on sale, cheap. And it sounded interesting.
At the happy ending of The Tempest, Prospero brings the king back together with his son, and finds Miranda’s true love, and punishes the bad duke, and frees Ariel, and becomes a duke himself again. Everyone–except for Caliban–is happy, and everyone is forgiven, and everyone is fine, and they all sail away on calm seas. Happy endings.
That’s how it is in Shakespeare.
But Shakespeare was wrong.
Sometimes there isn’t a Prospero to make ev erything fine again.
And sometimes the quality of mercy is strained.
Holling Hoodhood is having a really bad year. His sister has declared herself to be a flower child, much to the undisguised disgust of their father. The Vietnam War is in full swing, and Walter Cronkite grimly delivers the evening news. And because he is neither Jewish nor Catholic, he is forced to spend every Wednesday afternoon alone with Mrs. Baker, the teacher who hates him for no good reason.
How does he know she hates him? Well, she first tries to get him kicked back a grade for his math studies, which would eliminate the need to spend Wednesday afternoons with her. Then she decides to have him bang erasers and clean the chalkboards. It would be silly to teach him anything, she says, because he would just have to hear it again the next day. But after a catastrophe or two involving cream puffs and chalk dust, Mrs. Baker finds a new way to torture Holling: Shakespeare.
He is ecstatic when he discovers the lovely swears in The Tempest, and thinks Mrs. Baker can’t have known about them or she’d never have let him read the play. He loves making new combinations–“Blind mole, a wicked dew from unwholesome fen drop you,” he tells Meryl Lee, who likes him. “Toads, beetles, bats,” he whispers when a teacher assigns an unwelcome report.
As Holling learns more about Shakespeare, and Mrs. Baker learns more about Holling, they teach each other lessons that go far beyond the classroom. Perhaps, just perhaps, Mrs. Baker doesn’t hate Holling at all.
What I liked: I loved Holling’s enthusiastic swears from Shakespeare–any time someone discovers the poetry in Shakespeare is cause to rejoice. I loved the give-and-take nature of Holling’s and Mrs. Baker’s relationship. There is plenty of rainbow joy in this novel, despite the gloomy world setting.
What I didn’t like: I didn’t like that it was only 189 pages. Okay, I’m joking. It was actually just the right length, and it made me very happy while I was reading it.
Awards: This book is a Newbery Honor book, with just cause. You don’t have to be a 7th grader, or even have a 7th grader in your life, to enjoy this book.