Friday, May 6, 2011

Shakespeare and Love in a Time of Turmoil

The Wednesday Wars
by Gary D. Schmidt
Sandpiper, Reprint Ed.
272 pages
ISBN:  0547237602

The Wednesday Wars,a Newbery Honor book of 2008, takes place at Camillo Junior High on Long Island, New York during the 1967-68 school year, the height of the Vietnam War.  Holling Hoodhood--yes, that's his name--is a seventh grader, who thinks that his teacher, Mrs. Baker, hates him.  On Wednesday afternoons, when half of his class goes to Hebrew school and the other half to Catechism, Holling, the lone Presbyterian, finds himself alone with Mrs. Baker, who takes the opportunity to expose Holling to Shakespeare.  Now he's convinced she hates him.

His father, the Chamber of Commerce Business Man of 1967, tells him not to make waves at school because he thinks anything anyone in the family does reflects on his architecture business.  His sister, who likes making waves, wants to be a flower child, loves the Beatles, the Monkeys, and Pete Seger, and thinks that Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. are the only ones who can save the country.  His mother doesn't say much of anything.  In the background, always reporting on the news from Vietnam and the home front is Walter Cronkite.

The world around Holling is full of turmoil with Vietnam and political assassinations, his house is full of conflict, and his own adolescent existence is pretty tumultuous what with everyone he knows wanting to kill him.  As he continues reading Shakespeare (The Merchant of Venice, MacBeth, The Tempest, Romeo and Juliet, Julius Caesar, and finally Hamlet), Holling begins seeing parallels in his own life and the world around him to Shakespeare's plays, including he and his girlfriend as star-crossed lovers, his father as Shylock, and the gym teacher/cross country coach as Caliban.  Mrs. Baker, whose husband is fighting in Vietnam, tells him that Shakespeare "is about the abundance of love.  It is about the weakness of armies and battles and guns and...the endurance of love."  Shakespeare, in sixties lingo, is saying "Make love, not war."


  1. Ohh...another good pick, Jude. I really loved this story. There is a companion novel out called Okay for Now. It follows one of his classmates. I haven't read it yet, but def on my list.-T

  2. I just checked Okay for Now out of the library. I was disappointed that it wasn't more adventures of Holling Hoodhood, but I'm game to find out what happens with his classmate--I think the kid moves out of town and has to deal with an abusive father.