Monday, April 12, 2010

The Wednesday Wars-- Gary Schmidt

Warning: spoilers

Don't you just love when you read a quality book? I don't know about you, but I get that warm, fuzzy feeling inside that makes me want to head to the library and check out every book in the same section of the book I just read. This is how The Wednesday Wars was for me.

Set during Vietnam, the writing was so authentic, I honestly thought it was one of those books that was written during that time period and reprinted recently, but I found out that is not the case. This was published in 2007 and never before, which just adds to the talent of the author. The language and "feel" of the characters brought me to a place I've never been. I was in Mrs. Baker's 7th grade English class. I sat in the front row as Holling Hoodhood performed the fairy, Ariel from Shakespeare's The Tempest complete with yellow tights and feathers on the butt.

This coming of age story follows the young Holling Hoodhood, heir to Hoodhood Associates Architecture firm. When 1/2 of his class goes to Catholic religious instruction on Wednesdays and the other half goes to Jewish religious instruction, Holling is stuck alone with his English teacher, Mrs. Baker. After cleaning boards and clapping erasers for the first few weeks, Mrs. Baker decides to challenge the young Mr. Hoodhood, a Presbyterian, with the works of Shakespeare. This convinces Holling that Mrs. Baker hates his guts, which, as we know of all 7th grade English teachers, is true. (I can say that; I used to be one!)

It's through these stories of the Bard that Holling learns life lessons. Of course, sometimes life gives him lessons without the literature. One of the hardest lessons to learn is that sometimes the people we look up to, don't turn out to be who we think they are. Holling learns this lesson the hard way when he rushes from his performance as Ariel the fairy (remember he's wearing yellow tights with white feathers on the butt) to meet Mickey Mantle for an autograph. Arriving just as they are starting to shut things down, he's told by Mantle that Mantle won't sign autographs for anyone wearing tights with white feathers on the butt.

He says on pg 93, "When gods die, they die hard. It's not like they fade away, or grow old, or fall asleep. They die in fire an pain, and when they come out of you, they leave your guts burned. It hurts more than anything you can talk about. And maybe worst of all is, 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 the fire to go out inside you twice."

Though this, he does learn who his real friends are, for when Danny Hupfer sees what just happened, he returns his signed Mickey Mantle baseball and walks away. If only we all had friends like this.

The reminders of the war in Vietnam, in my opinion speak as a metaphor for the war within Holling, himself. When it describes soldiers mere meters from their destination, hunkered together underground waiting and just out of reach of what would be salvation, it reminds me of those times in life when we come so close, but just don't quite hit the mark. The entire time, Holling is deciding what kind of a son, friend and brother he wants to be. His father wants him to take over the family business, and with his sister being a flower child out trying to find herself, Holling feels the pressure from dad even more. The problem is that he wants and needs to figure things out for himself.

It's a good thing he has Mrs. Baker, who quietly, yet persistently guides Holling through the seventh grade. It is her influence that encourages him when he falls. It is her compassion that brings two other Yankee players to play ball and sign gloves for Holling and his friends. It's her influence that gets him a date with Meryl Lee. It's her encouragement that pushes him to beat the eighth graders at the cross country meet. Mostly, it's her insight and quiet nature that teaches him the lessons of life that he won't realize until years down the road. I have to admit that I felt good inside when Mrs. Baker is rewarded in the end. After all, doesn't someone like her deserve a happy ending?

I loved this story because it made me think of all the Mrs. Bakers out there, all the ones in my life who encouraged me and pushed me to be a better person. So, to Mr. Askin, Mr. Morgante, Mr. Schmitt, and Mrs. Edwards, thank you for your influence in my life. Thank you for pushing me to be more than I thought I could be. Thank you for igniting a passion for learning and hard work. Thank you for being the kind of teachers we all want our children to have.

So, I leave you all with this question: Who is/was your favorite teacher and how did they influence your life?


  1. Jess,
    I've never heard of this book or author, but it sounds intriguing. The Tempest is my favorite Shakespeare play, so that alone makes the title appealing to me.

  2. He does an amazing job weaving the plays in and out and using them to teach the lessons that the main character is struggling to learn.

  3. Jessie,
    I saw your comment on Mary's kidlit blog but I couldn't find an email address for you - but I was just skimming so I may have missed it. Are you still looking for a critique partner? We have the same taste in music and we both write YA, and we both love red marks! I added a comment to her blog about myself, so read it and if you're interested, please contact me. Thanks!

  4. I'm commenting for the same reason as Kierah (maybe the three of us could work together?). I'm currently writing a realistic YA (which is my favorite genre), but I've also written a paranormal YA. I'm a current English teacher, so we have a similar background in education. If you're interested, email me at amyjlavin (at) yahoo (dot) com.

  5. OH! I never saw this post. You're question makes me giggle :)