Chapters 7 and 8 Summary and Analysis
Although the White House insists that the war in Vietnam is going well in March, it is clear from television news reports that the situation is rapidly deteriorating. Five thousand Marines are trapped in Khesanh, and among the missing is Mrs. Baker's husband. Holling's sister is devastated at this turn of events, and even Holling's father can only watch in stunned amazement. Mrs. Baker maintains a stoic attitude at school, but at times her eyes are red and drippy. On the "Ides of March," the day that Julius Caesar met his death, members of the school board are coming to evaluate teacher and student performance. Also scheduled for that day are try-out finals for the cross-country team; Coach Quatrini expects all male students to participate.
Hoodhood and Associates needs a receptionist, and Holling's father forces Holling's sister to take the job, even though she wants to work for Bobby Kennedy's campaign instead. Holling's sister believes that Kennedy will end the war and the racial discrimination poisoning the country, but Holling's father dismisses him as "a rich kid from Cape Cod who's never done anything on his own." Holling's father tells Holling's sister that she "might as well go work for that Martin Luther King," whom he labels a Communist. Holling himself is glad that Kennedy is running for president. Sickened by the war and by politics, he "just want(s) someone to say the plain truth," and thinks Bobby Kennedy might be that someone.
Mrs. Baker watches Holling preparing for cross-country tryouts, and points out deficiencies in his form. As a result of her coaching, Holling runs "like Jesse Owens" the next day and beats "a whole lot of eighth graders." To express his thanks, Holling offers Mrs. Baker some teaching tips in preparation for the school board observation. When Mrs. Baker wryly asks if he has ever been an English teacher, Holling counters by saying she has never been a track runner. Mrs. Baker considers Holling's suggestions, and, before he leaves, discreetly shows him an Olympic medal she won in 1956.
Holling and Mrs. Baker are engaged in a dispute about Shakespeare when the school board members arrive for classroom observations. Noting the volume of plays on Holling's desk, one of the board members condescendingly asks if Holling can recite some lines, and Holling, noting the look in Mrs. Baker's eyes, stifles his inclination to spew forth some of Shakespeare's choice curses, and instead performs a moving selection from Julius Caesar. The pompous gentleman is silenced, and the rest of the observation goes well, until suddenly, one of the asbestos tiles in the ceiling gives way, and Sycorax and Caliban tumble into the lap of Mrs. Sidman, a new member of the board. In the ensuing chaos, Mrs. Sidman grabs the rats by the backs of their necks and transports them to a cage in the basement. When the exterminator comes for the rats and drops the cage, Sycorax and Caliban escape once again, racing after Holling, who is competing in tryout finals. The rats are smashed beneath the wheels of a school bus, while Holling sets a new record for the three-mile run, and is named to the varsity team.
With the situation in Vietnam worsening, Mai Thi becomes the target of intense bullying. When an eighth grader makes an especially hurtful remark to her in the cafeteria, Danny Hupfer comes to her defense, breaking the offender's nose. Danny is suspended for four days, but his parents are proud of him, and take him on a trip to Washington, D.C. When he returns, Mrs. Bigio, who had earlier treated Mai Thi unkindly herself in the aftermath of her husband's death, makes a Vietnamese snack for Mrs. Baker's class. As American soldiers remain trapped in Khesanh half a world away, Mai Thi and her classmates enjoy their treats, and she and Mrs. Bigio embrace, holding each other as if "they did not (ever) want to let go."
April is a month of momentous changes. Mrs. Sidman becomes principal at Camillo Junior High,...
(The entire section is 1,688 words.)