Monday, January 21, 2008

The Wednesday Wars

I'm impatient. I hear about a great book and I can't wait weeks and weeks (months and months) for my local Borders to decide whether they're going to get it in from the US or not. So I order it on Amazon and then try to forget about it until the doorbell rings. I had heard a lot about The Wednesday Wars by Gary Schmidt on the CCBC discussion list, and stopped reading the posts in the end when people started picking it to bits and giving away the story (I hate that - I always stop when they give spoiler warnings).

Last week, the Newbery Medal was given to a poetry book (yaaayyy!), Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! that hardly anyone had heard of. That's the nature of awards. The Wednesday Wars was an Honour Book. I started reading it and finished it in two days. I would've finished it in one day but I wanted to think about it and savour what was happening in the story. And now that I've finished, I'm still thinking about it. This morning, I was explaining to my friend G what it was about, what happens, what the characters' journeys are, and I realised that by doing this, I was seeing even more things in the book than I had on my own (I guess this is why some people join book groups, not just for the wine and socialising!).

To sum it up, I loved this book. Its most successful element, I think, is the narrator's perspective - how the writer has created a character who really does see the world as a seventh grade boy would. He believes the teacher hates him, he doesn't see that his father is a selfish, bigoted man, he doesn't understand his own abilities and capacity for learning about life, he can't see the point of reading Shakespeare. Yet, on his journey through the story, he gradually comes to understand all of these things, and more. He comes to see the possibilities of his place in the world, that he doesn't have to be what others want to force him to be.

That is a pretty amazing accomplishment in any novel. To slowly but surely unravel a character and depict him learning how to sort out what and who he is ... I'm not going to say that this is amazing for a middle grade novel, because I have read lots of middle grade and YA novels that accomplish this in such depth and subtlety that they leave many adult novels for dead. It is simply a wonderful novel. For a reader of any age.

I have also realised that what I don't like in children's fiction is a writer who feels they need to spell everything out. Kids are not dumb. There have been posts from teachers and librarians who have kids who love The Wednesday Wars. The same way they love The Dark is Rising, Northern Lights, Bridge to Terabithia, in fact any novel that invites them into the story by giving them room to imagine, speculate, wonder and work stuff out for themselves. That's why those novels last and the mass market series that are churned out, two or four a month, don't. There are some series that will endure (look at Little House on the Prairie) because the writers were passionate about the stories they were telling, and the themes continue to resonate. But I doubt any series that is written to a set formula will last beyond five or ten years. I guess that's the nature of the marketplace at any time, isn't it?

1 comment:

Kristi Holl said...

Thanks for another great book review. I will hop over to the library website and put it on hold. And thanks for not giving away the ending!