*The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt

Holling Hoodhood comes to appreciate more than Shakespeare in this humorous historical fiction middle school novel. Starred review for The Wednesday Wars!

*The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt. Clarion, 2007 (Newbery Honor). 272 pages.

Reading Level: Middle grades, ages 10-12

Recommended For: Ages 10 and up, particularly 12-13 year olds

The Wednesday Wars

Toads, beetles, bats! His Jewish classmates are off early to the synagogue on Wednesday afternoons; his Catholic classmates to church. Holling Hoodhood, a Presbyterian, is forced to read Shakespeare and clap erasers for his teacher, Mrs. Baker, who clearly hates his guts. Every single Wednesday afternoon for the entire school year.

After school, Holling dodges Doug Swieteck’s brother and heads to The Perfect House, careful not to step foot in The Perfect Living Room. It’s no use complaining of school injustices to his father. As long as there’s a potential connection for a future architectural contract, Holling had better be all sweetness and light to anyone in charge.

The Wednesday Wars is a near perfect middle school novel. As Holling reads through Shakespeare plays during his Wednesday sessions with Mrs. Baker, he starts to filter his own experience through Shakespeare’s plots and language. Love, sports, and even family issues bear the scrutiny of Shakespeare’s lens. Even Mrs. Baker and the Vietnam War shine a bit more clearly through the Bard’s words. Schmidt is by turns funny and poignant; he is brilliantly concise in both cases. This is the rare novel that captures the protagonist’s seventh grade experience so deftly that it is perfect for current seventh graders. Older/younger students will enjoy it, but 12- and 13-year-olds will appreciate it the most. Bonus if they’ve already got some Shakespeare in their repertoire. If they don’t, this book just might whet their appetite!

This is not a “book about Shakespeare,” though. It’s a book about a boy who begins to grow up and who discovers that there is more to a person than meets the eye, whether that person is your teacher, your friend, your enemy, your sister, or your own father. It raises the right questions, and it is a book best read independently (as opposed to a read aloud). Seventh graders are smart enough to pick up on those questions–and to think about them.

Cautions : language (occasional language use, usually when quoting Shakespeare)

Overall Rating: 4.75/5

  • Artistic Rating: 5
  • Worldview Rating: 4.75

There are many quotable portions of this book. Below are two of my favorites.

That’s how it is in Shakespeare.

But Shakespeare was wrong.

Sometimes there isn’t a Prospero to make everything fine again.

And sometimes the quality of mercy is strained.

p. 72

Mrs. Baker looked at me for a long moment. Then she went and sat back down at her desk. “That we are made for more than power,” she said softly. “That we are made for more than our desires. That pride combined with stubbornness can be disaster. And that compared with love, malice is a small and petty thing.”

p. 109

We like this book better than its successor, Okay For Now, although we are in the minority on that one! See a review on my former book review site, Literaritea, for a bit more about Schmidt’s craft in The Wednesday Wars. We also like Gary Schmidt’s Pilgrim’s Progress and his newest book, Pay Attention, Carter Jones (also a starred review!). Be sure and check back on Thursday for an up-close-and-personal encounter with Gary Schmidt himself!

What’s YOUR favorite Gary Schmidt book?

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Betsy Farquhar

Betsy is the Managing Editor at Redeemed Reader. When she reads ahead for you, she uses sticky notes instead of book darts and willfully dog ears pages even in library books. Betsy is a fan of George MacDonald, robust book discussions, and the Oxford comma. She lives with her husband and their three children in the beautiful Southeast.

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  1. Paula on March 25, 2019 at 7:29 am

    It’s been a while since I’ve read his books, but I loved both “Wednesday Wars” and “Okay for Now”. I’m really looking forward to his newest book!

  2. Cheryl on June 18, 2019 at 3:27 am

    Thanks for the recommendation, Betsy! We listened to the audio version of this novel on a recent road trip. The whole family enjoyed (with kids ranging from 10 to 15). The narrator is amazing, with the range of personae he portrayed with different voices. We appreciated that the novel is simultaneously serious and funny, subtlely probing into various character flaws we sometimes encounter. We also love how the author cleverly whets appetites for Shakespeare.

    • Betsy Farquhar on June 25, 2019 at 7:35 am

      So glad you enjoyed the book, Cheryl!

    • Ellie on June 25, 2021 at 4:04 pm

      Hi! I just wanted to say that we totally agree that the narrator is awesome! We have listened to the audio several times but never fail to laugh out loud because the narrator’s voices are just hilarious!

  3. Lori on November 30, 2022 at 10:29 am

    I enjoyed the comedy and the clever Shakespeare connections but was disappointed by the treatment of Holling’s father and his faith heritage. Schimdt presents Holling’s dad (presumably a Presbyterian) as the true villain in the story. As a white, Protestant, male, he is stereotyped as abusive, self-centered, success-driven, and irredeemable to the end. Even the penitentiary-bound teens show growth as the story progresses, but Mr. Hoodhood does not. Considering Schimdt’s own personal background, I am baffled and saddened. In his portrayal of Holling’s dad, is Schmidt embracing the current cultural trend to bash white, Protestant, males? How might his portrayal of a fictitious Mr. Hoodhood influence the attitudes of impressionable youths toward their own fathers?

    Furthermore, although Schimdt portrays his main characters as appreciating Shakespeare, Beatles’ lyrics, Jewish, and Catholic traditions, I don’t recall seeing any mention of Holling’s appreciation for his own faith heritage (Protestantism). Why this glaring omission? In a seeming rush to be ecumenical, Schmidt’s story comes across to me as anti-Protestant.

    In terms of artistry, I found the overnight picnic chapter weird, boring, and unnecessary to the plot development. I would give the book a rating of 4.0 for artistry, and a rating of 3.0 for worldview.

    • Betsy Farquhar on December 1, 2022 at 10:41 am

      Thank you for your thoughtful comment, Lori. I think I can speak to your questions, and perhaps reassure you? I’m fairly certain Schmidt is not “embracing the current cultural trend to bash white, Protestant males” in part because this book is 15 years old (our culture has changed quite a bit in the past 15 years). And even if he were writing this same book in 2022, Schmidt can’t create a villain who is a different skin color or religion than his own in today’s cancel culture or he would be raked over the coals. I once heard Schmidt speak; he said he’s interested in writing about young people who are pivoting from childhood to adulthood, who have one foot in both worlds. As such, his protagonists are nearly all young teens who are coming to understand their parents as people, warts and all, instead of the hero worship more common in childhood.

      We here at Redeemed Reader don’t look to literature for the right answers, but for the right questions. In this case, how does Schmidt raise the right questions? We see a young man who is the outsider in his classroom because he isn’t Catholic or Jewish (in a very particular time and place; during the Vietnam War in the Northeast. Were this story taking place in 2022, it might be Muslim classmates, too. Were the story happening in the South in the same time period, there would be more Protestants probably, and race would undeniably factor in). Does Holling give up and join one of the other religions? No. Instead, he ends up learning a lot through his year with Mrs. Baker and Shakespeare: a lot about human nature. A good writer uses stories like this to urge his readers to examine their own selves (not to cast judgment on others). How are we loving our family members? Our neighbors? Where are we misunderstanding others or making snap judgments instead of getting to know them first?

      I think we do our young teens a disservice if we assume they will automatically view their own fathers more poorly because of a book like this. Rather, they are more likely to view their own fathers more thankfully if they’re NOT like Mr. Hoodhood and, if they ARE like Mr. Hoodhood, perhaps they’ll be encouraged to not wallow in victimhood but to pursue some life-giving interests and pursuits, to seek out other adults for counsel. Even better, when our young men grow up, when they, too, are tempted towards perfectionism and workaholism, may they remember the sad effects on the family from Mr. Hoodhood’s example. Even the classics are full of terrible portrayals of parents (Pride and Prejudice comes to mind: the mother is just awful, as are several mothers in the book, and the father is completely inept; yet, this book has much to teach us!).

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