Jerry Spinelli is a master storyteller who always seems to surprise you with the lessons that he imparts in his stories. His newest book, Dead Wednesday (8/3/21, Knopf Books for Young Readers) does just that. Like Stargirl, Dead Wednesday urges young readers to believe in themselves and to face life bravely, even if that sometimes means not quite fitting in.
Dead Wednesday is the story of Worm and Becca. The title comes from an annual town even where, for one day in June, all 8th graders are given the name of someone who died tragically along with a black shirt that marks them as “dead.” On that day, they are considered invisible by everyone in the community and are supposed to get a lesson about reckless living and their consequences. While this sounds like a deep and meaningful concept, it has been turned into a day of goofing off with no consequences, deep meaning completely ignored. The kids are only in school for half of the day and play pranks on all of the younger students and teachers. Worm has been waiting for this day for years, but it doesn’t turn out exactly as he expects.
Worm is a shy kid who lives up to his name and remains an unseen entity. He tags along with his best friend, Eddie, who is more of a popular kid, but worm seems happy in his anonymity. He is starting to pay more attention to girls, but that’s an extra challenge when very few people actually know him. The first time he actually mentions a girl to Eddie, his best friend decides it is time to go after this girl himself and Worm sees his chance as lost. Enter Becca Finch, Worm’s “dead girl” who died in a car crash on Christmas day. Dead Wednesday is supposed to be in theory only, but in pure Spinelli fashion, Becca somehow comes to actually visit Worm, boss him around a bit, and perhaps change his life.
At first it appears that Becca is just trying to have some fun back in the world, but she not only has to deal with what ended her life, but she helps Worm see ways to actually have a life of his own. Another reviewer mentioned that it is somewhat important to come into this blindly. I tend to agree with that and so I don’t want to give away too much. What I will say is that, like Stargirl, this is a powerful book that comes at you quietly. Spinelli knows how to write the quirky kid and also magically writes the kid who doesn’t care if they are different but choose to embrace their individuality and soar.
This is an awesome book for a mature 5th grader to 9th grader, or a 40 something who likes reading books for kids 🙂