The Wednesday Wars is a young adult novel that is amazingly realistic on one hand—and amazingly unbelievable on the other. The realism comes from the skill with which Gary D. Schmidt realizes main character Holling Hoodhood and his sufferings in junior high. The tension between Holling and his teachers, his classmates, and his family is strikingly real, even when he is insisting that one of them is going to kill him. A second theme of gritty realism coursing through the novel is the Vietnam War. Whether it is the fear caused by the war itself—Mrs. Baker’s husband is in combat—or the rebellion that seizes Holling’s sister, Heather, the feel of the period is intensely real. Life is changing for these characters as it changed for many Americans during the period.
And then there is the unreality that leads to the novel’s fine comic touches. Some of this comes from the fierceness with which Holling wars with Mrs. Baker. Some comes from the hard-to-believe coincidences, as happens when he ruins the cream puffs by accident or when he starts running cross-country, only to have Mrs. Baker reveal herself to be a former Olympic athlete. And some of it comes from the at-times surreal mix of phrases from Shakespeare and contemporary teenage life.