Don Vito's thrilled I'm back. But he wasn't so thrilled when I gave him a book to read. I thought The Wednesday Wars would be an intriguing title, but he kind of got fixated on the etching of Shakespeare on the cover.
Don Vito: This is about Shakespeare? Michele, this Shakespeare is not top grade.
Me: Really, Godfather? I mean, everyone thinks he's the world's greatest writer.
Don Vito: Pah! You read Dante? That's who's the world's greatest writer. (Starts quoting flamboyantly in Italian.)
Me: Fine. But this book also features a couple of dirty rats who do a jailbreak and end up falling through the classroom ceiling...
Don Vito: Why didn't you say so in the first place? Doity rats?! Now that's good literature.
Off he went to his study. As I write this review, I can hear him muttering and laughing. So far so good.
Before he comes back, let me fill you in on a few things:
Where I found this book: Powell's bookstore, the shelf with Newbery winners and honors. (The Wednesday Wars won a Newbery honor in 2008.)
Why I picked it up in the first place: the etching of Shakespeare on the cover. (As you know, Shakespeare is one of my heroes.)
Setting: Long Island, late 1960s.
Main Character: Holling Hoodhood, a seventh-grader.
Plot in a nutshell: Holling thinks his teacher, Mrs. Baker, hates his guts. He's convinced of her nefarious plots to get him. Life truly becomes terrible when he ends up, on Wednesday afternoons, as the only student in his class not being bussed out for religious studies. (Half the class is Jewish, the other Catholic--Holling is the lone Presbyterian.) Mrs. Baker makes Holling do all sorts of drudgeful tasks, including whacking the blackboard erasers to rid them of chalk dust. Eventually, he graduates to reading and discussing Shakespeare with her. He discovers she isn't the ogre he once imagined. She's actually a teacher with his best interests at heart, although she is prone to rolling her eyes and folding her arms. Holling takes part in The Tempest, joins the cross-country team, has a great experience in Yankee stadium, and makes peace with his older sister.
Lots of other things going on: Holling's father is interested only in winning architectural honors and is a cold fish to his children; the school cook's husband is killed in Vietnam, where Mrs. Baker's husband also goes missing. 1968 is the year in which both Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy are assassinated, and Holling's sister begins to protest the war. Holling begins a tame romance with Meryl Lee, his classmate.
And yes, there are two "doity" rats called Caliban and Sycorax who escape while Holling is cleaning their cage. And a cloud of blood-sucking mosquitos. And a happy ending.
Did it make me laugh: Yes! (Funny jokes about Presbyterians.)
Did it make me cry: Yes! (Don't tell the Don.)
Would I read more of Gary D. Schmidt: Emphatically yes!
Here comes the Don now. Oops, things aren't looking good--he's got a huge frown on his face. He's reaching out to grab me. Aargh! Bear hug!
The Don: Michele, even the Shakespeare stuff wasn't so bad. And the school has a Mrs. Bigio and a Mr. Petrelli! Those are my kind of teachers. And Yankees baseball with Joe Pepitone... I don't care what they say about Joe, he's good famiglia... And everyone should have a teacher like that Mrs. Baker, I'll send my limo round for her, take her out to dinner..."
(Postscript: the Don went on in such vein for a while. I'm beginning to think he has a hard time distinguishing fact from fantasy. Perhaps he should be a writer?)
(Post Postscript: This is my first review on Marvelous Middle Grade Monday, started by Shannon Messenger. This week, she is reviewing Justin Case by Rachel Vail.
Here is a list of other MMGMers. You might like to check them out too!
Joanne Fritz discusses THE SHADOW CHILDREN SEQUENCE books. Click HERE to read her review.
-Shannon O'Donnell always has an awesome MMGM recommendation. Click HERE to see what she's featuring this week.
-Natalie Aguirre is interviewing author Rosanne Parry, with a giveaway of SECOND FIDDLE. Click HERE to read more and enter.
-Sheri Larson is hosting author Kari Lee Townsend on her blog to talk about SAMANTHA GRANGER. Click HERE to read the interview.