1) I’m sincerely sorry that the second I get more readers from my Challenged Book Week blogs, I got caught up in a crochet project and literally have read nothing. On the bright side, the blanket looks fantastic!
2) This is a super-long review, to make up for the time I missed, but I was also trying to make it coherent. It’s a GREAT book! 🙂
3) I may have overdone the italics on this post at some points. My bad.
Synopsis: September, 1967. Holling Hoodhood is pretty certain his teacher, Mrs. Baker, hates him. While the Catholic kids are at Catechism and the Jewish kids are at Hebrew School on Wednesday afternoon, he gets some one-on-one time with his teacher (since he’s the only Presbyterian in the room and has no special lessons on Wednesdays). He can’t say or do anything about it, because he is the heir to Hoodhood and Associates architecture company, and his father basically believes that Holling has to make everyone happy JUST IN CASE a business deal is around the corner.
You can probably tell that Holling’s dad is a jerk, but he’s only one of the problems Holling has to put up with.
- Holling is coming of age in the Vietnam Era. Sucks enough that he doesn’t know where he fits in the world, bad enough when he’s being stretched in different directions.
- Holling’s dad is Businessman of the Year, self-absorbed, etc. Holling’s 16-year-old sister is an oppressed flower child in the making. Between Dad pressuring him to not do anything wrong and sister pressuring him not to friggin’ embarrass her, he’s struggling to be himself and make people happy.
- Hoodhood & Asso. are competing mercilessly with Kowalski’s architecture firm, the only other one in the area. Meryl Lee Kowalski happens to be Holling’s crush.
- While Holling isn’t necessarily a bad kid, things… happen… when he’s around. For example, when he’s cleaning the rat cages in Baker’s room, they get loose. When he’s cleaning erasers for Mrs. Baker outside, the wind lifts the chalk and it settles on some cream puffs that she has cooling in the window. Yeah, the kid is slightly unlucky.
After the disastrous chores, Mrs. Baker decides Wednesdays can be put to better use, and he begins to read Shakespeare. He reads a play a month, essentially.
October: The Merchant of Venice. Holling knows Mrs. Baker is trying to torture him, but too bad for her, he enjoys it! He learns that the “bad guy” wasn’t really all that bad, he was just being held down by the man.
November: The Tempest. Holling learns lots of fun Shakespearean curses. Funny, his classmates are cursing him because of the cream puff incident (all they know is he probably got one and they didn’t). He goes to the bakery short a few bucks and he offers to do dishes, etc. Mr. Goldman, as it turns out, needs an actor for The Tempest, and Holling auditions on the spot. Bam, cream puffs for the class. Sadly, they were eaten by the rats that Holling let out. “The quality of mercy is not strained,” and Mrs. Baker saved Holling another day by buying the class enough cream puffs. Maybe she doesn’t hate him after all?
December: Wrong again, Holling… Mrs. Baker encourages everyone to see Holling in The Tempest, in which he plays a warrior fairy wearing feathered tights. He ends up impressing those classmates who do show up. Mom and Dad weren’t there to see; the Ed Sullivan special was on the same night, and they couldn’t miss that! AND that same night, Mickey Mantle was at Baker’s Sporting Emporium (Mrs. Baker’s brother owns it). Holling gets locked out of the theatre in costume, begs a bus driver for a ride, the driver gives him a baseball he found, and they make it in time to meet Mantle. Mantle refuses to sign the ball for a kid wearing yellow tights, and in front of the owner and classmate Danny Hupfer. Danny gives Mantle his signed ball back. Mrs. Baker (with her brother) brings Joe Pepitone and Horace Clarke from the Yankees to toss the baseball back and forth with Holling, Danny, and Doug (who was planning the biggest prank ever– I believe this effectively changed his mind). They also get opening game tickets.
January, 1968: Macbeth. They have a few long discussions on the meaning of the play. Mrs. Baker says Shakespeare was writing to let us know that we were made for more than power. Hoodhood and Associates are competing for another big contract. Snowstorm during standardized testing; a bus gets out of control and almost hits Holling’s sister, but he knocks her out of the way. Mrs. Baker sees this and drives the two to the hospital. No parents show up. Mrs. Baker is absorbed in the news, like she’s waiting and worrying for someone she loves…
February: Romeo & Juliet. Holling is convinced R & J are stupid, but Meryl Lee thinks it’s romantic. They go see the play together and grab a Coke afterwards. They discuss the architecture plans that each of their dads is presenting. Holling turns out to be a great artist, and when he sketches out Hoodhood’s proposal on a napkin, Meryl shows her dad how awesome Holling is. Then Kowalski “tweaked” his own plans. Long story short, the kids make up and Kowalski takes his bid for the job away. “What a sucker,” Mr. Hoodhood says.
March: Julius Caesar. Beware the Ides of March. Holling is forced to try out for the cross country team, and Mrs. Baker trains him… turns out she ran in the Olympics in ’56. Mrs. Baker is being evaluated. Both events fall on the Ides. While being evaluated, the rats finally fall out of the ceiling, and they escape from the exterminator’s cage, then they ended up chasing Holling to the fastest try-out time.
April: Martin Luther King, Jr. gets assassinated; world in shock. Kowalski’s business is going under. And then there’s the Yankees Opening Game. Holling reminds his dad, but his dad is distracted and forgets to pick him up. Mrs. Baker saves the day (again) and takes him to the game, and she’s bombarded by baseball players who recognize her.
May: Hamlet. Kowalski wins a major job: redoing Yankees stadium– so Dad is depressed for a while. Holling’s sister leaves for California, but gets stranded in Minnesota when she leaves her jerk boyfriend. She calls Holling, who wires her money to get to New York. Mr. Hoodhood refuses to pick her up, because they can’t drop everything to pick her up! Kowalski happens to be driving into the city, and Mrs. Hoodhood gives Holling money to pick up Heather and get a train home. About Hamlet: Maybe no one told him that he didn’t need to find himself. He just needed to let himself be found. Lt. Baker, who was MIA, sends a telegram.
June: Much Ado about Nothing, which they decide comedy is about choosing a happy ending. They attend Danny’s bar mitzvah. Mr. Hoodhood makes a snide comment about being glad Holling didn’t have to chant at everyone, and Holling corrects him and says it’s about becoming a man, and they argue about the meaning of becoming a man. Holling, thinking of the recent loss of Bobby Kennedy, says he’ll let dad know when he knows who he is. This gets a slammed door on Dad’s part, a blown kiss on Mom’s part, and a huge smile on Heather’s part. Lt. Baker returns.
- Whenever I think of the Hoodhoods, I think of The Wonder Years,without the middle brother Wayne. Except good gracious, the parents (especially the dad) were jerks. The mom seemed like her hands were tied, but the dad was just– augh! Holling sees the family falling apart at the seams, despite the fact that they “look” perfect. The fact that they don’t show up to the play hurts me, and the fact that they let Holling’s teacher hang out in the hospital waiting room and they don’t show up at all? Crappy.
- Also, they don’t use Heather’s name until after she returns. (The parents still may not, but Holling does.)
- What were those rats? ROUSes? Everyone was acting as though they were on a killing rampage.
- One really impressive thing about the book was how they handled the war and the interactions with a Vietnamese student, Mai Thi. She’s accepted in Holling’s class, but outside she’s a target for people who have lost loved ones in the war. The “cafeteria lady’s” husband was killed, and she was angry, especially at Mai Thi. She turned around when she saw Mai Thi cry at being bullied, and made a Vietnamese treat for the class, apologizes, and they end up becoming super-close. I’m sure Mrs. Baker encouraged it, but wow. Amazing.
- Also amazing, how insightful and how wonderful Mrs. Baker simply was. She knew how to make everyone’s day, but she was intimidating as all get out. Despite Holling’s initial belief that she hated him, it was definitely interesting to watch him realize that she wanted the best for him. And, hello, she drove him to the hospital and waited when his friggin’ parents were at home. Wow.
- Inspirational Real-life Teacher Alert! Recently watched The Hobart Shakespeareans. Rafe Esquith had fifth grade immigrants performing Hamlet, reading To Kill a Mockingbird, etc. Um, 1-LOVE, 2-should I re-evaluate my “grades” system?
- I loved how the Shakespeare coordinated with all the chapter’s events, which I’m sure was the point. And it totally makes me ashamed that I didn’t read more Shakespeare.
- I LOVE Gary Schmidt. My senior year of college, I went to the Faith and Writing Conference at Calvin College. I’d never heard of him before, but since Schmidt teaches at Calvin, he held a lecture about using funny life experiences as inspiration for stories in novels. He’s engaging, thoughtful, and funny, with two Newbery Honors to boot, including one for The Wednesday Wars. If I knew then what I knew now… I’d at least have gotten a signed book or something…
Grades: Maybe 6-8? Knowing a little Shakespeare helps, but I don’t think it’s crucial. Maybe Rafe’s students would love it. I like that there’s a “lesson” that Holling applies after each play.
Grade: Are you kidding? A! It was a good book, a great blend of comedy and tragedy, and 1967-68? Perfect setting!