This September, our guest will be Gary Schmidt, author of many books, including Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy, Straw Into Gold, Trouble, First Boy, and the two books we’ll be discussing today - The Wednesday Wars, and Okay for Now.
The Wednesday Wars features Holling Hoodhood, a seventh-grader whose teacher, Mrs. Baker, is out to get him. Really. Why else would she make him pound erasers, clean out rat cages, and read Shakespeare’s play, The Tempest? Twice. And then there’s Doug Swieteck’s brother, who has sworn to kill him, his infuriating older sister, the whole incident with the cream puffs, the wrath of the entire eighth grade cross-country team, and the pressure of being the perfect son set to inherit the family business.
Okay for Now, the companion novel to The Wednesday Wars, follows Holling’s former classmate, Doug Swieteck, as his family abruptly moves to stupid Marysville, a stupid little town in upstate New York where the stupid library is only open one stupid day a week. But on the second floor of the library, Doug stumbles upon a treasure: a huge book in a glass case that depicts a bird. A bird falling out of the sky into the cold green sea, terrified. Doug looks at the bird’s eye and recognizes the fear and pain he feels in his own life - his abusive father, his sadistic older brother, his oppressed mother, and Lucas, his other brother who returns from the war permanently disabled and haunted.
Both novels, set in America during the Vietnam War, could be called coming of age stories. But this would be a vast oversimplification. These books are a testimony to all that makes us human, and how, even in the face of adversity and pain, help, humor, understanding, and joy can come from unexpected places such as the drawings of John James Audubon, a girl holding a dried rose with a ribbon around it, a phrase of Shakespeare, a game of horseshoes, a passage from Jane Austin, or the cool green baseball field within Yankee Stadium.
Gary Schmidt is a multiple-award winning author. Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy received a Newbery Honor and the Pritz Honor in 2005. The Wednesday Wars received a Newbery Honor in 2008, and Okay for Now was a finalist for the National Book Award in 2011. In addition to his accomplished authoring, Mr. Schmidt is a Professor of English at Calvin College in Michigan.
Author photo by Myrna Anderson