The Wisdom of the In-Betweens
I had my own ideas of what a young adult novel was before starting this class in Childrenís Literature. In fact, I thought we were dealing with Childrenís Literature, as in ďchildrenĒ. I didnít even think about young adult (YA) novels. When I pulled up the list of readings for the quarter, I was somewhat dismayed that four out of five of them were YA writings. Like I said, I had my own ideas as to what a YA novel was all about, what teens were all about, and Gary D. Schmidtís, ďThe Wednesday Wars,Ē proved me wrong.
Our first reading assignment of this work was just 50 pages. In those first 50 pages, I found exactly what I expected to find. After all, I was looking for a book written from a self-centered point of view and isnít that what 7th graders like Holling Hoodhood are all about? But on the next reading, it wasnít more than a few page turns and suddenly the hook was sunk in. I couldnít put my finger on it, but I wanted to know what happened next. I was quite surprised.
Even more surprising was when I read the following passage:
"When gods die, they die hard. It's not like they fade away, or grow old, or fall asleep. They die in fire and pain, and when they come out of you, they leave your guts burned. It hurts more than anything you can talk about. And maybe worst of all is, you're not sure if there will ever be another god to fill their place. Or if you'd ever want another god to fill their place. You don't want fire to go out inside you twice"(93).
I didnít expect for something so insightful to come out of this 7th graderís mouth. I didnít realize a teenager could have such a revelatory thought. And I wasnít sure if itíd come from another source, if it wouldíve had such an impact on me as a reader. Me and my preconceived notion of what teenagers were all about just received the equivalent of a sucker-punch to the gut and I had to stop and catch my breath for a day or two before I could continue reading.
Of course, I tried to tell myself that since this book wasnít really written by a teenager, the thought didnít really come from one. It was tempting to believe this logic. After all, Schmidt is a mature adult and so, this was something coming from him, not the boy Holling, in the book. But then, when I watched and read the interviews with Schmidt, I realized that the Vietnam War time that Holling is growing up in is the actual times that Schmidt lived through himself. And that perhaps, even if Schmidt couldnít articulate such a thought when he was a boy, that such thoughts certainly could have come to him. And even though certainly not all generally self-absorbed teenagers would think about such things, I was one such teen that would and so there must be others. It would be entirely dismissive and judgmental for me to not consider that possibility. When I look back on my own life of a mere 34 years, I realize how I have only now begun to articulate some of my much earlier life experiences.
What first struck me so deeply about this particular passage was the Truth that resonated with me. It made me ask myself who my gods were and how Iíve felt it, deep in my belly, when some of them have died and about how hesitant I have been to risk that sort of pain again. Iíd venture itís a universal experience of all humankind. Once I had identified some of the ways in which Iíd experienced the death of gods in my own life, I went back to the book. I wanted to know more about what Schmidt meant and he didnít disappoint - he gave us many examples of how the characters in his story were experiencing this. For Holling and his friend Danny Hupfer, their dream of Mickey Mantle was shattered when he turned out to be a callous and unfeeling fellow instead of the superhero theyíd always believed him to be. When Mrs. Bigio got the telegram that her husband had died in the war, a deeper god died. And for the Vietnamese girl, Mai Thi, a god died when Mrs. Bigio told her that she didnít belong in the states while American boys were dying in the swamps of her native country. Holling said, ďÖI wondered how many gods were dying in both of them right then, and whether any of them could be savedĒ (96). I found myself wondering the same.
Can a god be saved? How many gods die in a single lifetime? How much can we endure? Can you save a dying god? Can you bring one back? If the fire burns too deeply, can you ever let another god be born? Might the fire of the death of one god, birth the beginning of another? But perhaps, this is going too far out for the scope of this assignment. Perhaps itíd be better if I went back to understanding why I was so skeptical of Holling saying such a thing in the first place.
Always a deep thinker myself, Iíd pondered big questions when I was a teen. I was also a seclusive and somewhat depressed teenager - I didnít really connect with any of my peers. I was that nerdy kid that no one talked to and when youíre in a small enough school, no one means no one. I didnít enjoy my teen years much at all and I developed a huge mistrust of otherís my age after enduring a lot of bullying in the schools. I dropped out mid-ninth grade even and was allowed to home school my way through high school. My teen years were beyond awkward and they stayed with me. Iíve stayed with the assumption that all teens are like the ones I grew up with; that they donít have deep thoughts; that they donít contain any wisdom; and that wisdom is something that comes only after youíve had more life experiences. But perhaps thatís not so much the case. Perhaps, if youíre aware of the world around you, you can see things happening - you can observe how people fold in when their dreams are lost - and if youíre reading Shakespeare, perhaps you might realize that gods are dying.
I believe in the wisdom of our elders and in the innocent wisdom of young children but I havenít given much thought to teens. Iíve always kept them at armís length, even one of the most wonderful, intelligent teens I know, my youngest cousin. From Hollingís journey in ďThe Wednesday WarsĒ Iíve realized I need to be much more mindful of my own judgments when Iím talking to those in those often tumultuous years. I need to be more mindful when Iím listening to my own seven year-old daughter, and the running start students in my classes and even my boyfriend, who I sometimes dismiss the opinion of because he is 10 years younger than myself. I need to stop assuming that their lack of years means a lack of insight or thinking, because that is simply not the case.
Schmidt, Gary D. The Wednesday Wars. New York: Sandpiper, 2007. Print.