The Wednesday Wars Summary

The Wednesday Wars is a book that follows a year in the life of seventh-grader Holling Hoodhood.

  • Holling, the only student in his school who isn’t Catholic or Jewish, is sent to Mrs. Baker’s room while the others attend catechism or Hebrew school on Wednesdays afternoons.
  • Mrs. Baker assigns Holling busywork on Wednesdays. When Holling and Mrs. Baker start reading Shakespeare, he takes an interest in acting and participates in a school production.
  • Mrs. Baker's husband goes missing during the Vietnam War, but he is found, and Holling and his classmates go to the airport with her to greet him.

Introduction

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 217

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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.

Extended Summary

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Last Updated on June 1, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 951

The Wednesday Wars follows Holling Hoodhood through a school year. Everyone at Camillo Junior High is either Catholic or Jewish—except for Holling Hoodhood. On Wednesday afternoons, the Catholics in Holling’s seventh-grade class go to catechism. The Jewish kids go to Hebrew School…and the school has to decide what to do with Holling. He is assigned to Mrs. Baker’s room. Holling gets the impression that Mrs. Baker hates him because she quizzes him about why he will be in her room on Wednesdays, criticizes his grammar when he answers, gives him extremely complex sentences to diagram in English class, and suggests that he might benefit from sitting in on a sixth-grade math class. He shares his fears about Mrs. Baker with his friends and family, but no one seems overly concerned.

Come October, Mrs. Baker sets Holling to more active work: cleaning erasers and the coatroom. One afternoon she orders him to move several trays of cream puffs the school cook had baked. After he does, she has him go outside to clean more erasers, promising Holling a cream puff as a reward if he does a good job. He does—but the chalk dust drifts through an open window to settle on the cream puffs. Holling does not say anything, and the charity members who eat the puffs all get sick. His classmates had hoped he would get them cream puffs, and threaten to kill him if they do not get any. Mrs. Baker then starts a new practice for their Wednesdays: reading Shakespeare. That same month, Mrs. Baker’s two rats, which had been given to her by her husband, escape. At home, Holling’s sister begins a fairly quiet rebellion against their ambitious, conformist father.

In November, Holling’s life continues its up-and-down pattern. At home, water leaks through the roof, rotting the ceiling of the “Perfect House,” designed by his father. At school, he is assigned to sing soprano—and to read The Tempest. The first leads to growing closer to Meryl Lee; the second lands him the part of Ariel in a production of Shakespeare, which wins him some free cream puffs.

In December, the production is held. Holling hopes to keep his part in the play a secret, but Mrs. Baker offers extra credit to any student who attends. The play is held the same night that the great Mickey Mantle is signing autographs at Baker Sporting Emporium; after a successful performance, Holling rushes across town in costume to meet Mantle. However, the star ignores him. To make up for this, Mrs. Baker gets two other Yankees to come to the school and play catch with Holling and his friends.

As January arrives, pictures of Holling in his Ariel costume are taped up everywhere in the school, and his friends and sister tear down as many as possible. The day of the state’s standardized tests, Holling saves his sister from getting hit by a bus, only to get hit himself. Mrs. Baker drives him to the emergency room.

In February, when he and Meryl Lee are reading Romeo and Juliet, he takes her to a production on Valentine’s Day. However, they talk about his father’s architectural concept for the new proposed junior high. When Meryl Lee shares the details with her father, he adapts part of the design so that he gets the contract. Holling explodes with anger at her, but soon realizes that he has been unfair. He visits Meryl at home to make it up to her, and her father withdraws his design. After they have come back together, though, Mrs. Baker gets the news that her husband is missing in action in Vietnam.

Mrs. Baker keeps a stiff upper lip as the school year moves into March. When Holling decides to try out for the cross-country team, she coaches him. In return, he coaches her on how to be more welcoming when administrators are observing their classroom. The observation goes well, and Holling’s tryout is going respectably—until the exterminator drops the cage holding the two lost rats. When they get free, Holling runs very fast to catch them and wins the tryout.

His first meet is in April. Meryl Lee nervously tells Holling that she might have to run. While they deal with this, the Reverend Martin Luther King is shot, and the country seems to fall apart around them. But life goes on, and Holling is excited to go to Opening Day at Yankee Stadium. His father, however, is so involved with work that he forgets to pick up Holling to take him there. Once her school obligations are done, Mrs. Baker drives Holling to the stadium for part of the game. The players recognize Mrs. Baker from having run in the Melbourne Olympics. Soon thereafter, Holling wins a cross-country race, and Meryl Lee gives him his first kiss in congratulations.

In May, much of Holling’s focus is on his family. Meryl Lee’s father gets the contract to renovate Yankee Stadium, a great blow to Mr. Hoodhood. His sister wants to attend Columbia. When their father says no, she runs away to California. Holling’s parents do nothing to help her, and when she calls from Minneapolis, where she is stranded, it is Holling who wires her the money she needs for a bus ticket home. In another homecoming, Mrs. Baker’s husband is found, and he sends a telegram letting her know that he is coming home. In June, Bobby Kennedy dies. The seventh-grade class closes the year with a camping trip, and then all the students go with Mrs. Baker to the airport to help welcome her husband home.

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