August 6, 2013 by Heidi
Welcome to New York! When most people think of New York, they think of the city, but it’s actually a massively diverse state running from the coast to Niagra Falls. For me, moving here was a bit like stepping into a story–suddenly I was surrounded by landscapes I recognized from books and movies throughout my life. I remember the first time I drove past places like Amityville and Sleepy Hollow–you mean the Sleepy Hollow?! Yes, yes it is.
Personal favorite? The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt.
Personal favorite? The Diviners by Libba Bray.
Personal favorite? The Humming Room by Ellen Potter.
What’s your favorite New York read?
Title: The Wednesday Wars [Goodreads]
Author: Gary D. Schmidt [Website]
Narrator: Joel Johnstone
Standing: Stand alone (though there is a companion novel, Okay For Now, about one of the main character’s friends).
Genre: Middle Grade, Historical
Published: June 1st, 2007 by Scholastic Audio Books
Format: Audiobook; 7 hrs, 27 min
Source: Borrowed from my local library.
In this Newbery Honor-winning novel, Gary D. Schmidt offers an unforgettable antihero. THE WEDNESDAY WARS is a wonderfully witty and compelling story about a teenage boy’s mishaps and adventures over the course of the 1967–68 school year.
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.
When someone who tends to make good recommendations to you tells you several times that you will probably love something–listen. I finally picked up Gary D. Schmidt and The Wednesday Wars on audio, and I adored it. From first sentence to last, this book was so full and rich and true in every way. I laughed in a way I haven’t laughed listening to audio in well over a year, and I cried. I cried because it was too touching and real and perfect not to.
Never before have I read a book that more exemplified the home where I live now–Long Island, New York, despite the reality that it shows a very different island than you see today. Being a (seemingly) lone protestant in a predominantly Catholic and Jewish population can be every bit as awkward as Holling would have you think. Luckily, I never had a 7th grade English teacher with a vendetta against me because of it. I loved the mentions of Eisenhower Park, Jones Beach, and other locals I’m so familiar with. A historical tour of the area made me want to explore my local history more, and spend more time exploring outside of New York City (in fact, since finishing I have visited a nearby historical township just because).
At it’s heart, The Wednesday Wars is sort of a slightly-older, slightly more-recent, less Midwest version of A Christmas Story. And coming from me, there can’t really be a higher compliment to a kid’s story. Holling Hoodhood’s experiences and emotions vacillate from elated to horrified in that same way, with these everyday occurrences becoming the most ridiculous and monumental, and I loved it. Gary D. Schmidt captures the atmosphere of the time so perfectly that as a listener I was transported to the 1960s, breath catching at news of Vietnam, Kennedy, and Martin Luther King Jr., and certainly sympathizing with Holling’s sister who so clearly wanted more from life than what was being offered her.
But as it is set in its time, The Wednesday Wars also transcends time in our ability to relate so personally. We have all, at least I dearly hope, had that one teacher who will change our lives forever. For Holling Hoodhood, it is Mrs. Baker. And I’m pretty sure that Holling Hoodhood will be that one student that changes Mrs. Baker forever as well. Though their relationship begins tenuously, their warfull Wednesdays soon transform into something more–into a kind of mentorship and love affair with William Shakespeare, and a challenge to be met gladly. This is the book that will make many kids want to pick up that famed playwright, and those of us who have long loved him to look back and smile. And just perhaps we’ll all start calling one another “pied ninny”s instead of “mother _____”s.
The Wednesday Wars is one of those unassuming little books that manages to pack so much real emotion and true human connection into its parts that I am left baffled. There is the experience of friendship and first love, of bullies and killing one’s heroes, of triumph and defeat. Oh, and some pretty epic rats. Holling Hoodhood’s family dynamics smacked so much of the time. His father may be one of the worst fathers I’ve read about in terms of selfishness and neglect, despite the non-abusive nature of his existence. His sister was one of the most intriguing side characters I’ve come across for some time–I couldn’t help but thinking I’d love to read her story as well. I know it would be entirely different from Holling’s, but that it wouldn’t be any less full of emotion or meaning.
There couldn’t have been a more perfect narrator for The Wednesday Wars on audio than Joel Johnstone. I’ve personally only listened to his narration once before (in Thirteen Reasons Why, where it was also stunning), but he’s quickly becoming one of those narrators to seek out. In this case, I definitely feel as if the story was enhanced by its format, and really recommend this one on audio for those of you who enjoy listening.
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Category Audiobook, Middle Grade, Miscellany, Review | Tags: Audiobook, baseball, Booking It Across the US, Civil Rights, Historical Fiction, Long Island, Middle Grade, New York, review, Shakespeare, Vietnam