The Wednesday Wars

by Gary Schmidt

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There are three closely related settings in The Wednesday Wars. The first and most important setting is Holling’s junior high school. This is specifically Camillo Junior High on Long Island, in New York, and, most often, Mrs. Baker’s room on Wednesday afternoon from 1:45 p.m. until the end of school. The specificity of the room and time are very important. This is Mrs. Baker’s domain, and she is very much in charge of every inch of it. Her gaze fills the room, and Holling seems quite aware of where she is in it and where other key members of his class are. The physical descriptions are clear enough, but relatively limited compared to the social descriptions or to the descriptions of objects/creatures that engage Holling’s attention, such as Mrs. Baker’s rats or the cream puffs. Except for the explorations of Shakespeare, which are rare in any time, and the escaped rats, this could be any room in any junior high school.

The second key setting is the “Perfect House.” This house is a symbol of Mr. Hoodhood’s conformity and his ambition as an architect and businessman. The house and everything in it must be “Perfect.” It is as if Mr. Hoodhood’s home is a remnant of the Eisenhower era, something from Leave It to Beaver. However, his two children are not part of the Cleaver family. Holling’s main divergence is his imagination, but his sister is a more active rebel. These shifts in the family threaten it and are symbolized by the water stains on the Perfect Living Room’s ceiling. Mr. Hoodhood built a perfect house, but it is rotting, and the outside world is creeping in.

The third setting is the novel’s pervasive backdrop—Vietnam War-era America. The war itself enters people’s lives in a number of ways. Mrs. Baker’s husband is fighting in the war and is wounded; the tension of those who have loved ones fighting in the war plays out through her face and body throughout the novel. Mai Thi offers the possibility of redemption; she was brought to this country from Vietnam, in a humanitarian act. She faces the suspicion and racism of the period. Holling’s sister embodies the revolutionary spirit of the era, especially as it played out gradually in middle-class homes. She listens to “rebellious” music and then begins speaking and acting out. She paints a flower on her face and then tries to run away to start a new life. Like many such period attempts, it fails, but it shows how far the spirit was moving the young to change.


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Boreen, Jean. 2007. “The Wednesday Wars.” Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 51 (1): 77-78. Boreen discusses the historical accuracy of the novel.

Rosenberg, Liz. 2008. “It Took a Village to Win a Newbery.” Boston Globe, March 9, p. K7. Rosenberg offers an intelligent discussion of Newbery Honor books, including The Wednesday Wars.

Shoemaker, Joel. 2007. “The Wednesday Wars.” School Library Journal, July, 53(7). One of the rare reviewers to strike a negative tone, Shoemaker summarizes the novel, praises some aspects, and catalogues its weaknesses.

Trierweiler, Hannah. 2007. “Best Books on Friendship for Tweens.” Instructor, 117 (1): 75. This brief article discusses why The Wednesday Wars is a good book to use to teach about friendship.

The Wednesday Wars.” 2007. Kirkus Reviews, 75 (23): 18. This brief review manages to include several perspectives, including statements from the author on how he sees the novel.

The Wednesday Wars.” 2007. Publishers Weekly, 254(16). This brief review summarizes the novel and then praises its characters and humor. 

The Wednesday Wars.” 2008. Booklist, 104 (9/10): 13. This brief review summarizes and praises the novel.

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Critical Essays