I did not want the novel to end. Actually, that might not be an accurate description of my emotions as Joel Johnstone, the audio book narrator, neared the conclusion of Gary Schmidt’s The Wednesday Wars. The kids and I have been listening to the novel for the past few weeks, laughing and crying, discussing Vietnam and Shakespeare, and loving every moment. Today, however, we had to say good bye. Laughing helped a little to choke down the tears that burned at the corner of my eyes and the sadness which tightened my throat as the story wound, inexorably, to its end.
What a beautiful, beautiful story! A whole, wide, wondrous world! Racial tensions, war, family, competition, ambition, fear, love, friendship, white feathers and yellow tights, miracles and brown, perfect cream puffs. Holling Hoodhood, the protagonist, tells us of negotiating a world strewn with rules, disappointments, and unexpected events, both good and bad. As a seventh grader, he is perched on the rim of growing up, and he notices everything that happens around him, understanding people (and sometimes misunderstanding them) with touching sensitivity and straight-forward, often self-deprecating expression.
My favorites are the unlikely friendships born in the novel: Holling and his eye-rolling teacher Mrs. Baker (despite the fact that Holling is certain that she hates his guts). Holling’s classmate Mai Thi, the tough Vietnamese girl who was sponsored over to the U.S. by the Catholic Relief Agency, and Mrs. Bigio, the school’s cook whose husband dies in Vietnam. Holling and Meryl Lee, whose fathers’ have competing architectural firms (I can see Hoodhood and Associates and Kowalski and Associates becoming Hoodhood, Kowalski and Associates in a few years). Holling and his sister Heather, who wishes to be a flower child and change the world and who leaves their house (the Perfect Home, as Holling calls it satirically) to find herself.
Some books I read once, and it is enough, but not this one. Having heard it on audio, I would now like to read it on paper and see if it is the same. There are so many details there, so many undercurrents in every word, that I expect I shall find it quite different. I love Joel Johnstone’s reading. I love how I can hear Mrs. Baker’s sarcasm dripping when she corrects Holling’s grammar. I love Danny Hupfer’s breaking voice. I love Holling’s multicolor way of speaking, depending, of course, on who he is speaking to and whether or not he is feeling threatened.
And in honor of Gary Schmidt’s powerful writing, I love the cream puffs, the escaped rats, Mrs. Sidman’s yellow rain jacket, Doug Sweiteck’s penitentiary-heading brother, and the many other colorful, fabulously portrayed characters. I will forever think of Mrs. Baker waiting for strawberries, and Mrs. Bigio opening her heart to the young Vietnamese girl. And above them all, sternly ruling, the ghost of William Shakespeare, with an answer for every question on life, and his best contribution to swear words, the ultimate: “Toad, beetles, bats!”