Allison's Book Bag

The Wednesday Wars by Gary Schmidt

Posted on: July 25, 2014

The Wednesday Wars by Gary Schmidt is like a hefty patchwork quilt. On one hand, The Wednesday Wars is really very long. So long that one can lose track of how everything interconnects. On the other hand, it’s full of interesting and poignant stories. So many that by the end, I feel as if I’ve read a saga about Holling Hoodhood and Camillo Junior High. Actually, given that the definition of saga is a “long, involved story or series of incidents,” it seems I have. 😉

What are some of series of incidents? First, I’ll start with the broad, sweeping ones. Holling’s teacher seems to hate him. Although Holling at least initially seems clueless as to her reasons, I suspect it has something to do with his being the only student in her 1:45 class. The rest of his peers are attending a Catholic or Jewish religion class; Holling is of neither faith. Second, while helping Mrs. Baker clean her classroom one Wednesday afternoon, Holling accidentally sets loose two overgrown ferocious rats. The numerous and unsuccessful attempts to capture the rats make for the bulk of the slapstick, which seems out-of-place in an otherwise fairly serious novel. Third, after his peers suspect him of receiving a cream puff from Mrs. Baker as a reward, they threaten to hurt him unless he buys ones for the entire class. Holling’s family isn’t rich. Moreover, his parents are stringent. This means, Holling has to find a job to earn the money. Fourth, Mrs. Baker eventually comes up with a productive use of those Wednesday afternoons, which is requiring Holling to read all of Shakespeare’s plays. This lands Holling into trouble with some bullies and leads to some minor slapstick, which this time comes off as funny.

Within each of these plots are narrower, more defined events, ones that feel anecdotal in nature. For example, when the rats escape an exterminator, they turn their attention of Holling. In running for his life, he ends up qualifying for track. As part of his attempts to appease his peers, Holling wins over a girl. Except then Holling shares his dad’s architectural plans with her, she shares them with her dad, and an architectural war ensues. The job he obtains involves playing the part of a fairy in the production of a Shakespeare play. After the curtain closes, everyone rushes off to meet a legendary baseball player; Holling is no exception. Unfortunately, he finds the changing room locked and so finds himself without money for bus fare, among other disasters. The resulting scenes make up only a couple of pages but are some of the most sweetest in The Wednesday Wars. Then there’s those school bullies. One of Holling’s encounters with them raises the ire of this sister. The whole drama at home is yet another spin-off.

If you’re lost by now, well…. that’s a possible hazard with a novel as long as The Wednesday Wars. The traditional touted length for middle-school novels, or the age group for which The Wednesday Wars is intended, is between twenty and fifty thousand. The more complicated a novel for young people is, and the more recognized an author is, the higher that amount can be. Still, fifty thousand is considered to push the upper range, unless one is writing fantasy. The Wednesday Wars is not fantasy. Instead it’s an historical novel set during the time of the such historical events as the Vietnam War, the assassination of Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr., and the flower children. (Yes, all these situations are all alluded to within The Wednesday Wars too.) And yet The Wednesday Wars runs 75,000 words. That total falls short of an acceptable level for a novel written for adults. So depending on your point of view, Gary Schmidt has either written a snooze fest or a middle school novel of epic proportions.

For me, the reality lies somewhere in the middle. At times, I yawned at what seemed like an eternal landscape. Or felt lost in the constant twist of plot. At other times, I enjoyed the crazed antics which sometimes resembled that of those in the endearing Otis Spotford by Beverly Clearly. Or smiled at the emotional connections between characters, even between adults and youth. I especially liked a moment shared between Holling and his sister after she runs away from home. The Wednesday Wars is a little unwieldy, and so best-suited for strong readers, but it’s also as fascinating as a patchwork quilt.

My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.

How would you rate this book?

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