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In Gary D. Schmidt’s novel for young readers titled The Wednesday Wars, Meryl Lee Kowalski is a seventh-grade girl who has long had a crush on Hollis Hoodhood, the novel’s protagonist, also a member of the seventh grade. References to this relationship appear throughout the 2007 Sandpiper Books edition. Thus, at one point Hollis, the narrator, suspects that a teacher, Mrs. Baker, whom he perceives as antagonistic, may have booby-trapped his desk, hiding something dangerous or disgusting in it. He then reports,
So I asked Meryl Lee Kowalski, who has been in love with me since she first laid eyes on me in the third grade – I’m just saying what she told me – I asked her to open my desk first. (p. 11)
This is a splendid sentence in several ways, including the following:
- Meryl Lee’s last name is already a bit comic (certainly more comic than if she had been named “Meryl Lee Smith” or “Meryl Lee Jones”).
- The claim that Meryl Lee has long been “in love” with Hollis might seem egotistical, but he is very quick to assert that this is her claim, not his. The use of the word “love” to describe a childhood crush is itself comical because it is exaggerated.
- The phrase “since she first laid eyes on me” is comically overblown, like something from a bad romance novel.
- The phrase placed between dashes catches the rhythm of real speech, and indeed one of the most appealing aspects of Schmidt’s novel is the way he creates a highly credible voice for Hollis.
- The phrase within dashes also suggests that Hollis is modest, embarrassed, and eager to make sure that the reader knows that Meryl Lee’s attraction to him was her idea.
- Finally, it is only after revealing Meryl Lee’s love for him that he reveals that he asked her to open the potentially booby-trapped desk!
In one brief sentence, then, Schmidt manages, effectively and efficiently, to characterize two of his book’s main personalities, and he does so in language that is simultaneously funny, believable, and subtle.
Later indications of Meryl Lee’s interest in Hollis occur later when
- she comes over to be his study partner (p. 27)
- Meryl Lee makes room for Hollis, who is sitting next to her in music class, on her music stand (p. 57)
- Meryl Lee grabs and holds Hollis’s arm (p. 57)
- Meryl Lee is accused by Miss Violet (a teacher) of flirting with Hollis (p. 58)
- Meryl Lee puts her foot on top of Hollis’s foot (p. 58)
- And so on.
Clearly Meryl Lee is interested in Hollis and feels comfortable enough to manhandle (or maybe girl-handle) him. Hollis, meanwhile, does not resist her attentions.
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