The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt Part 1

I just picked this book up randomly at the library, not knowing quite what to expect. The summary was pretty vague: A seventh grade boy deals with a teacher who hates him and forces him to read Shakespeare outside of class during the midst of the Vietnam War. This book has now crept onto the list of my all time favorite books. The writing is superb and has much more depth than I expected. (Plus, quite a few quotes from Shakespeare). The thing that really stands out is the characterization. The main character, Holling Hoodhood, is a seventh grade boy , who, since he is not Catholic or Jewish, is forced to spend his Wednesday afternoons with Mrs. Baker, who hates his guts. At the beginning of the story, it is very clear that Holling has a tendency for melodrama as shown by his initial negative perception of Mrs. Baker. and also tries to avoid conflict as much as possible, always going with the flow. Yet there are other times when he chooses to stand up for himself or other people, going so far as to save his sister from getting hit by a school bus despite the injury he then receives. Holling is also very perceptive, and his observations about the world ring true. There are a few quotes that I haven’t been able to get out of my head, one of them being “When gods die, they die hard. It’s not like they fade away, or grow old, or fall asleep. They die in fire and pain, and when they come out of you, they leave your guts burned…And maybe worst of all, you’re not sure if there will ever be another god to fill their place. Or if you’d ever want another god to fill their place. You don’t want fire to go out inside you twice”(93). Mrs. Baker is one of the most interesting characters in this book. At the beginning, the reader sees through Holling’s eyes and she is shown as a cruel teacher who makes Holling clean erasers after school and assigns him extra-hard sentence diagramming. Yet, as their relationship progresses, we see the softer side of Mrs.Baker through their readings of Shakespeare after school. Mrs. Baker recognizes the loneliness and troubles that Holling is going through, and provides him with a way of making sense of the world. Additionally, there are so many other things Mrs. Baker does not just for him, but for other students. She buys cream puffs for the class after Holling cannot provide them, arranges so that some boys who were rejected by a really famous baseball player get to meet even greater professionals, and just overall is a really caring person. She’s the type of teacher that anyone would be lucky to have. Another fascinating set of characters is Holling’s parents. Holling’s dad is a professional architect who is extremely set on become the Chamber of Commerce businessman of 1968. In his house, it is what he says that goes, and him and Holling’s sister clash over their political ideals almost constantly. HE seems to be selfish and judgemental over every little thing. Indeed, he seems to almost smother Holling’s mother with his loud personality. She hardly has any lines in the book, and seems to be a background character despite the fact that she is a huge part of Holling’s life. Everything she does is usually just to benefit Holling’s father. It’s interesting, because the reader hardly knows anything about the mother. She hardly feels relevant, and I think that really adds to both the father’s and Holling’s characterization. Overall, I absolutely loved the first half of this book and can’t wait to see what the next half has in store.

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One response to “The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt Part 1

  1. Natalie Lloyd

    The second half of the book was just as good or even better than the first half. The Wednesday Wars is definitely a book that I would be happy reading a couple more times. I was trying to pinpoint what exactly about this book that made me love it so much, and I think a major contributing factor is definitely the setting. The setting is so realistic but yet unique at the same time. Most of the story takes place in Camilo Junior high, which is a junior high that has to share a building with the elementary school. Seems pretty typical at first. But the things that really sold this story for me were the little details that added character to the story. For one, Mrs. Baker has pet rats in the classroom that frequently escape, creating chaos. The fact that everyone in the school except for Holling is Jewish or Catholic is also an interesting fact. Overall, the setting with the vibrant cast of characters really adds a lot to the book. The second half of the book is focused quite a bit on growing and changing. Holling’s sister, Heather, who is 16, runs away to California with her boyfriend. Holling didn’t have a very good relationship with her, but when she calls for the first time in a few weeks begging for help to get home, he helps her and the two grow extremely close. They both realize things not just about themselves, but about each other: Holling starts to admire Heather’s refusal to take the path people are forcing her into, and Heather realizes that they are more alike than different. There is a lot of focus on fate vs free will in this book, ad Holling constantly feels pressure by his father to become and architect and Heather feels pressure to essentially become a housewife. Both of them unite under their shared resolve to reject the paths people choose for them, and even though neither of them know what they want to do yet, they take the time to figure it out. My overall rating would be 9.5/10.

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