I’m going to default to a Goodreads summary here, as it’s been too long since I finished reading this.
Meet Holling Hoodhood, a seventh-grader at Camillo Junior High, who must spend Wednesday afternoons with his teacher, Mrs. Baker, while the rest of the class has religious instruction. Mrs. Baker doesn’t like Holling—he’s sure of it. Why else would she make him read the plays of William Shakespeare outside class? But everyone has bigger things to worry about, like Vietnam. His father wants Holling and his sister to be on their best behavior: the success of his business depends on it. But how can Holling stay out of trouble when he has so much to contend with? A bully demanding cream puffs; angry rats; and a baseball hero signing autographs the very same night Holling has to appear in a play in yellow tights! As fate sneaks up on him again and again, Holling finds Motivation—the Big M—in the most unexpected places and musters up the courage to embrace his destiny, in spite of himself.– From Goodreads
I read this because I really enjoyed Okay for Now which is a companion/spin-off novel dealing with Doug Swieteck, one of the minor characters in The Wednesday Wars. As a result, it is really hard for me not to compare the two books and two main characters. Both Doug and Holling are somewhat outcast boys who have difficult relationships with their families, but come to find some passion for art and literature through their teachers and community mentors and who start seeing the world through more adult eyes as the Vietnam War escalates and affects the lives of those near them. The major difference, though, is that Holling seems to begin at a much less difficult starting point than Doug and as a result, his story is less hit-you-in-the-gut with emotions. I still like Holling, I still rooted for him, I still wanted what was best for him, I still laughed and cried with him, but if you want to see someone overcoming extraordinary adversity, Doug is your guy.
What makes these books so special (and completely worthy of the Newberry talk/Honor Awards they’ve received) is the great characters and their development. Holling is absolutely a 12-year-old boy starting to come of age. He struggles with the high expectations of his father and worries about what his peers think of him. Yet, at the same time, he’s starting to explore things for himself– like Shakespeare– that have him questioning his path. Who does he want to be? And does he have the courage to aim for that, when those around keep trying to pin him into roles they’ve chosen for him?
Another thing I really appreciate about Schmidt’s books is his portrayal of sibling relationships. A lot of YA characters are only children and this drives me nuts, as a lot of my childhood and adolescence was shaped by my relationships with my sisters. Holling doesn’t really get along with his older sister, as she is 16, an aspiring Flower Child, and is way too cool to bother herself with her brother. But… Holling has several moments where he does something that shows he cares about his sister and they were really sweet. Siblings don’t always get along or even hang out with one another, but there is a deep bond between them and I like seeing it in books I read!
Anyways, I highly recommend you check out both The Wednesday Wars and Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt if you are fan of the coming-of-age story. They’re full of great characters, literature, art, and some funny and heart-wrenching moments!
I read/reviewed this book in conjunction with the Series Catch-Up 2012.