The Wednesday Wars
By Gary D Schmidt
Clarion Books, 2007
The Wednesday Wars is a Newbery award-winning novel for young adults. It is a somewhat old-fashioned coming of age novel and a historical novel of the 1970s, with a good dose of humor.
The kids at Camillo Junior High fall neatly into two groups. Half of them are Jewish, and go to Hebrew School on Wednesday afternoons at 1:45. Half of them are Catholic, and go to Catechism on Wednesday afternoons at 1:55. And then there is Holling Hoodhood, who is neither Jewish or Catholic, and who stays in school on Wednesday afternoons. His teacher hates him.
Okay, maybe not really, but it takes a while for him to convince himself that she's not trying to torment him. After a few Wednesdays of cleaning erasers and sweeping floors, she decides to make things worse, and starts him reading Shakespeare. Her evil plan backfires, however, when he discovers that Shakespeare is actually sort of cool -- there are lots of imaginative oaths and stabbings.
These Wednesday afternoon classes start to be pretty interesting, and it isn't long before Holling is helping out with the local Shakespeare theater. But this is not really a story about Wednesdays or Shakespeare. It's about a kid growing up during the Vietnam war, with a crappy, career oriented father, a hippie sister, a bunch of bullies at school, and a couple good friends. He has a lot of minor adventures and is shown to be a pretty cool kid. And that's pretty much it.
This novel is not based around a central plot, but rather a series of interesting events in the life of a middle schooler, starting at the beginning of seventh grade and ending just a few days after the last day of class. The central event is Holling maturing and more-or-less discovering himself, but it doesn't press hard on this theme. My overall impression is a pleasant read of an interesting kid, and a fairly good glimpse into growing up on the 1970s.
That said, I found it a bit slow-going, bordering on boring at times. It is just a kid having milquetoast adventures and having a rather mopey school year. There isn't a whole lot new here, and I don't expect to have much memory of this book a month from now. Obviously, a lot of people have enjoyed it more than I have -- they don't give out Newbery Honor awards to just anyone -- but I am having a hard time figuring out who I would recommend this book to. It does not stand out particularly as a historical novel, it's not really very humorous, and while things work out well in the end, it's not particularly inspiring or happy-making. It's just all-around okay, but not great.