Before I get into the review of this book, allow me to tell you story. I most probably would not have picked it up on my own, so I should tell you how I came to hear of it.
Earlier this year on Facebook, a friend of a friend posted a picture of their third-grade class. He tagged her, which is how it appeared on my Facebook newsfeed. He asked if anyone else recognised anybody in the photo and requested that we tag ourselves or the people in question.
I was astonished when I saw the photo because I have the exact same photo in my albums!
Ms Helen Aoyagi’s Third Grade Class 1979-1980
Front row: Yours Truly (from Malaysia), Amy, Joe, Neuzeil (sp?, from Hong Kong), ??, Ms Aoyagi, Priscilla, Tommy, Jennifer, Jenny, Hiro (from Japan)
Second row: Ron (from Israel), Kent, Karine, Karen, Flavia (from Brazil), Adam (from Australia)
Third row: Jay, Mohsin (from Pakistan), Douglas, Alejandro (from Venezuela), Adi, Amanda, Hobbie, Bobby, Lisa, Michael, Christine
This is what I remember. It may not be 100% correct.
I’ve just finished reading Gary D Schmidt’s The Wednesday Wars, a young-adult historical fiction novel that is part of my oldest child’s home-school curriculum this year. I don’t always read the books, but this one looked interesting. Also, Miss 13, who is doing a different course this year, picked it up and read it and proclaimed it very good. She enjoyed it so much that she will pick it up every now and then and dip into (what I presume to be) her favourite parts.
Holling Hoodhood, the narrator and protagonist, lives in Long Island, and has just entered 7th Grade for the 1967-1968 school year. The book chronicles the events that happen to him during the school year. On Wednesday afternoons, half his class go for Hebrew lessons and the other half go for Catechism classes. Being a Presbyterian, Holling stays back and his teacher, Mrs Baker, must find ways to keep him busy. After a couple of ‘incidents’, she decides to make Holling read Shakespeare. With understanding. And there will be a test.
Although his family lives in what his father calls the Perfect House, life inside is less than Perfect. His architect father is only interested in establishing and maintaining good relations with the townspeople with the hopes of building future business prospects. Holling’s older sister wants to be a flower child. The Vietnam war is on and it is hard to be happy.
As Holling reads Shakespeare – with understanding – he learns more about life and what it means to be a decent human being.
This is my first time reading this author and I can honestly say that this guy knows what he’s doing. There are laugh-out-loud moments and then while the humour is still fresh – wham! – he hits you with something so poignantly written the tears start to flow and you have to put the book down because the words are too blurry to read and you just have to sit there and let the tears wash away the sadness until you can continue.
This is a book with depth. The beauty of the book is the absolute believability of the characters, and their growth and transformation through the course of the book is both wonderful and inspiring.