Friday, July 06, 2007
The Wednesday Wars
Schmidt, Gary D. 2007. The Wednesday Wars.
How do I capture the perfection that is The Wednesday Wars??? It is funny. It is serious. It is about meaning-of-life stuff. And the characters? Unforgettable.
Set in 1967-1968, The Wednesday Wars, follows the school year of a Mr. Holling Hoodhood, his seventh grade school year. He is in Mrs. Baker's class, and almost from the very beginning he feels singled out.
Of all the kids in the seventh grade at Camillo Junior High, there was one kid that Mrs. Baker hated with heat whiter than the sun. Me. And let me tell you, it wasn't for anything I'd done. If it had been Doug Swieteck that Mrs. Baker hated, it would have made sense. Doug Swieteck once made up a list of 410 ways to get a teacher to hate you. It began with "Spray deodorant in all her desk drawers" and got worse as it went along. A whole lot worse. I think that things became illegal around Number 167. You don't want to know what Number 400 was, and you really don't want to know what Number 410 was. But I'll tell you this much: They were the kinds of things that sent kids to juvenile detention homes in upstate New York, so far away that you never saw them again. (1)
It had me at hello. I mean who doesn't get drawn into this book? If not by the great first sentence, then curiosity about Doug's numbered pranks is bound to have some effect on you.
But the thing was, I never did any of that stuff. Never. I even stayed as far away from Doug Swieteck as I could, so if he did decide to try Number 166 on anyone, I wouldn't get blamed for standing nearby. But it didn't matter. Mrs. Baker hated me...I knew it on Monday, the first day of seventh grade, when she called the class roll--which told you not only who was in the class but also where everyone lived. If your last name ended in "berg" or "zog" or "stein" you lived on the north side. If your last name ended in "elli" or "ini" or "o," you lived on the south side. (2)
But Holling Hoodhood lives neither north nor south. He lives "perfectly" (according to his father, who is an architect,) in between. But location isn't the only thing that separates him from his peers: half his class is Jewish, the other half is Catholic. He is the lone Presbyterian. Which spells disaster if you're Holling Hoodhood. Why? Every Wednesday, half his class left school at 1:45 to attend Hebrew School. And likewise, the other half of the class left school at 1:55 to attend Catechism. So when Mrs. Baker called the class roll that first day, she suspected right away that Holling didn't belong to either group and would thus be her responsibility.
That's when I knew she that she hated me. This look came over her face like the sun had winked out and was not going to shine again until next June. And probably that's the same look that came over my face, since I felt the way you feel just before you throw up--cold and sweaty at the same time, and your stomach's doing things that stomachs aren't supposed to do, and you're wishing--you're really wishing--that the ham and cheese and broccoli omelet that your mother made for you the first day of school had been Cheerios, like you really wanted, because they come up a whole lot easier, and not yellow. (4)
As further proof of his teacher's "hate":
We spent the afternoon with English for You and Me, learning how to diagram sentences--as if there was some reason why anyone in the Western Hemisphere needed to know how to do this. One by one, Mrs. Baker called us to the blackboard to try our hand at it. Here's the sentence she gave to Meryl Lee:
The brook flows down the pretty mountain.
Here's the sentences she gave to Danny Hupfer:
He kicked the round ball into the goal.
Here's the sentence she gave to Mai Thi:
The girl walked home.
This was so short because it used about a third of Mai Thi's English vocabulary, since she'd only gotten here from Vietnam during the summer.
Here's the sentence she gave to Doug Swieteck:
I read a book.
There was a different reason why his sentence was so short--never mind that it was a flat-out lie on Doug Swieteck's part.
Here's the sentence she gave me:
For it so falls out, that what we have we prize not to the worth whiles we enjoy it; but being lacked and lost, why, then we rack the value, then we find the virtue that possession would not show us while it was ours.
No native speaker of the English language could diagram this sentence. The guy who wrote it couldn't diagram this sentence. I stood at the blackboard as hopeless as a seventh-grade kid could be. (17-18)
The book is divided into sections, September through June. Each month reveals more about Holling: his family, his classmates, his teacher, and the world around him including the war.
I am not going to give you much more information on what the book is "about." I just want to mention that Shakespeare is a recurring theme. Imagine this. Being in seventh grade and not only having one-on-one time with your teacher every Wednesday afternoon...but having Shakespeare there too.
I think this is a book that could appeal to anyone and everyone. If you have a special fondness for teachers that play a role in *inspiring* and *changing* young lives, I think you will love, love, love The Wednesday Wars. Equally, if you love fiction that depicts the challenges and struggles that all families face, I think you'll love The Wednesday Wars. It has a little bit of something for everyone: friendship, first crushes, family squabbles, school, prejudice. One of my favorite aspects about this novel is that it does so much. It addresses meaning-of-life issues in a way that is both serious, realistic, but it captures life's funny moments as well. It has it all.