Monday, August 27, 2007

The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt

“When gods die, they die hard. It's not like they fade away, or grow old, or fall asleep. They die in fire and 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 fire to go out inside you twice.”

This was one of my favorite passages from the book. However, it doesn't really fit with the rest of this review. I just thought I would share it.

I thought I knew what I wanted to say about this book. But as I thought more about it, it became less clear. Initially, I felt that the first half of the book was great – funny, witting, creative. As compared to the last half which was a little more somber. But I have come to the conclusion that the two halves worked well in concert.

The books begins, “Of all the kids in seventh grade at Camillo Junior High, there was one kid that Mrs. Baker hated with heat whiter than the sun. Me.” The “me” is Holling Hoodhood (a downright Nabokovian name), who thinks that his homeroom teacher has it in for him because he is a Presbyterian. This means that every Wednesday, when all the other kids in his class go either to temple or mass – depending on which side of town they are from – Holling remains at the school, meaning that the teacher has to figure out what to do with him. After a wide range of chores, she finally settles on making him read Shakespeare.

Each chapter focuses on one month out of the school year, complete with mean teachers, trips to the principal’s office, surly playground bullies, and revenge meted out with snowballs. If Bill Watterson had lacked the ability to draw, he would have written something like The Wednesday Wars.

The last half of the book gives the first half of the book some meaning and importance. The last few chapters also make it evident that Holling has grown up quite a lot in less than a year. Although portions of the book are a little over the top, most of it smacks with the realism of growing up in the 1960s. The day-to-day stories of Holling’s life are framed by the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights Movement, the threat of nuclear war, and somewhat serious – although not that unusual – family problems.

I wonder how much of this book is autobiographical. Schmidt did grow up on Long Island during the 60s. Regardless, The Wednesday Wars was definitely worth the read.

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