The Wednesday Wars, by Gary D. Schmidt, is a quiet, subtle middle grade book written in 2007 but set in 1967. It captures your attention from the start, but progresses slowly to show just how the characters, especially Holling Hoodhood, grow during a school year. I never would have picked this book up had it not been on this coming year’s MG Battle of the Books list. I thought it was wonderful and am very curious to hear what the other kids on our team thought of it.
The main premise of the book is that every Wednesday afternoon, all of the kids in Holling’s class leave around 2pm either to go to Hebrew School or Catechism. This year, Holling is the only Presbyterian and that means he has an hour of one on one study time with Mrs. Baker. Holling is convinced that Mrs. Baker hates him, and that’s before she makes him read Shakespeare. The year moves from September to June, and during that time, the reader gets to know all of the characters a little bit more, perhaps even starts to understand an empathize with them.
The Wednesday Wars takes place 1967 and the year is as much of a character as anything else. Mrs. Baker’s husband, along with many other men, are fighting in Vietnam. Holling’s father is completely wrapped up in his architecture business, but also sees Holling as The Son Who Will Inherit Hoodhood and Associates. Holling’s sister is a budding flower child, something their father is completely against, especially since he thinks she just needs to get married after high school and take care of her husband. There are 8th graders who torment the 7th graders and some completely embarrassing moments (it is middle school after all).
I don’t believe that Mrs. Baker ever had it in for Holling Hoodhood. I don’t think she even disliked him in any way, I think she was just suffering with her husband gone and perhaps was a bit frustrated to have one student who didn’t have religious education. Mrs. Baker is actually that inspirational teacher who wants each student to become their best self and takes steps to help them discover it on their own. She utilizes Shakespeare to show Holling that things are never exactly what they seem. Even a villain can really be someone who wants to be a hero. The Wednesday Wars is Holling’s journey to become the man he is supposed to be.
Sometimes it is a nice break just to watch a story unfold and a young boy learn a little bit about himself. Holling grew tremendously, but he was also a 7th grade boy who took a love to quoting Shakespeare curses at people. Those comical moments help keep the book light and a great middle grade read. It might even encourage a reader or two to pick up Shakespeare, and you can never argue with that.