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07 March 2008 @ 10:19 am
"The Wednesday Wars" by Gary D. Schmidt  

Yeah, like every other librarian in the free world, I adored it. End of review. :-)

Okay, in all seriousness, I loved "The Wednesday Wars" to a level that surprised even me. When it first came out and I read the description, I thought, ugh, the character is really named Holling Hoodhood? And it's historical fiction set during the Vietnam War with comedic elements and Shakespeare and the warm hearted nostalgia I associate with that old tv show "The Wonder Years"? Um, no thanks. But! I. Was. Wrong. Truly, I cannot imagine a better book for middle school readers.

Our story follows Holling's 7th grade school year, including his Wednesday afternoons with English teacher Mrs. Baker during which the two read and discuss the works of William Shakespeare. Mrs. Baker at first seems a bit stern and aloof, but we quickly learn that she's actually generous, empathetic, and, in her own way, funny and kind of cool. She challenges Holling to look more deeply into Shakespeare's text and savor the imagery, words, and themes. Mrs. Baker even wholeheartedly supports Holling's stage debut as the fairy Ariel in the town's production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream." Yes, I said fairy. And did I also mention the yellow tights with feathers on the rear end that are sure to make Holling the laughingstock of Camillo Junior High?

Over the school year, we also see Holling's sweet friendship with Meryl Lee develop into something more, despite the fact that their fathers are fierce business rivals. Even better, we discover how deeply Holling cares for his older sister when her misguided plan to run off to California stalls in the Midwest and he must rescue her. That's what's great about "The Wednesday Wars": all the plentiful humor -- about such things as evil rats in the classroom ceiling tiles, chalk dust covered cream puffs, and Doug Swieteck's older brother and the 8th grade penitentiary crowd -- is balanced perfectly by genuine, heartfelt emotion. As distant as Holling's father is, Holling himself is warm, good hearted, and sincere in an authentic way. Holling is not a hero, but he and his friends manage to do the right thing more often than not, all while learning real, often touching lessons in the process. There are so many wonderful moments in Holling's story, when characters stand up for each other and reveal their hearts in small, lovely ways. The goofy humor will hook younger readers, but it's the honesty and quiet beauty of these scenes that will remain long after the book is finished.

As I said, I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It's got history, Shakespeare, friendship, baseball and moments that will make you giggle and perhaps give you a small lump in your throat. "The Wednesday Wars" has something for everyone, and I hope all you middle school readers will give it a try. I don't think you'll be disappointed.

PS - I listened to the audiobook of this story, and I have to give props (again!) to Joel Johnstone, who also narrated "Thirteen Reasons Why."

Summary: LOVED!