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the wednesday wars

22 march 2014

The Wednesday Wars, a Newbery Honor book for 2008 by Gary D. Schmidt, is made up of various familiar elements. Seventh-grader (a boy for a change), square peg (the only WASP in his school, oh dear), blocking characters (not that our hero wants much of anything but to be left alone, but he's challenged by bullies and a teacher who seems to have it in for him), historical and regional color (1960s, Vietnam War era, Long Island). There's also a healthy helping of wacky slapstick. And did I mention that our narrator / hero is an avid reader?

Holling Hoodhood at first thinks that his teacher Mrs. Baker has it in for him; but the real purpose of the academic torments she inflicts on him is to get him interested in Shakespeare (which he does after reading a line or two – no plot conflict there) and then use his immersion in those plays to help him cope with the world. I can't disapprove of using literature to cope with life, and besides that aim fits with the best current theory in literature pedagogy.

But this novel wages such a relentless campaign for the values of reading that it becomes almost entirely meta. Even if we accept its claim that life gets better when you're reading an exciting book, why not read an exciting book instead?

Schmidt, Gary D. The Wednesday Wars. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2007. Electronic Edition. PZ 7 .S3527We