From goodreads: Meet Holling Hoodhood, a seventh-grader at Camillo Junior High, who must spend Wednesday afternoons with his teacher, Mrs. Baker, while the rest of the class has religious instruction. Mrs. Baker doesn’t like Holling—he’s sure of it. Why else would she make him read the plays of William Shakespeare outside class? But everyone has bigger things to worry about, like Vietnam. His father wants Holling and his sister to be on their best behavior: the success of his business depends on it. But how can Holling stay out of trouble when he has so much to contend with? A bully demanding cream puffs; angry rats; and a baseball hero signing autographs the very same night Holling has to appear in a play in yellow tights! As fate sneaks up on him again and again, Holling musters up the courage to embrace his destiny, in spite of himself.
This is my new favorite book! The narrator, Holling, is so witty, and sounds just like a seventh grade boy. There were times I found myself laughing out loud, like during this passage: “I think something must happen to you when you get into eighth grade. Like the Doug Swieteck’s Brother Gene switches on and you become a jerk. Which may have been Hamlet, Prince of Denmark’s problem, who, besides having a name that makes him sound like a breakfast special at Sunnyside Morning Restaurant–something between a ham slice and a three-egg omelet–didn’t have the smarts to figure out that when someone takes the trouble to come back from beyond the grave to tell you that he’s been murdered, it’s probably behooveful to pay attention–which is the adjectival form.” The writing in this book is funny and beautiful at the same time!
I loved that this book is set in the 60’s, and could be considered historical fiction, but didn’t go into huge detail about the events of that time; rather, it showed how the events of that time affected the characters of the book. I loved that it showed how life has to go on even with a war going on. Holling and his friends still had to deal with giant rats, bullies, Bar-Mitzvahs, indifferent dads, missing cream puffs and schoolwork.
Mrs. Baker made my favorite characters-of-all-time list. I loved that she took Holling under her wing, and showed him what a caring adult looks like. She was dealing with the fear and loneliness of having her husband in the war, yet she chose to put those feelings aside to be there for Holling. I loved that she taught (and re-taught) him Shakespeare, and showed him to look deeper into Shakespeare’s meaning. It was fun to see how initially Holling only found the cursing interesting (“Toads, beetles, bats, light on you!”), but later came to appreciate and connect with Shakespeare’s plays.
While Holling’s parents try so hard to live the perfect life, their family is anything but perfect. Holling is fortunate to have the support of his friends, his sister, and Mrs. Baker. Through them, Holling learns to be strong, and discovers how to choose his path in life for himself.