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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 finds Motivation—the Big M—in the most unexpected places and musters up the courage to embrace his destiny, in spite of himself.
This book . . . it was good. Really good. And I don't really know what I can say in this review, other than that. It's not exactly my go-to type of book, mainly because of the age of the main character. A lot of the events that take place in the book still make me cringe just thinking about them - but at the same time, they were pulled off more tastefully here than anywhere else I've ever read them. This is probably the least gag-worthy middle school romance I've ever read, due in large part to the fact that the romance doesn't take center stage. In fact, if the book doesn't mention numerous times that it's set in middle school, I could easily have mistaken it for a high school romance, not because of mature content but because of the maturity of feelings both characters show for each other - they may not have always been on the same wavelength, but at least they didn't spend the whole book in an on-again-off-again relationship.
One thing I loved in the book was the copious amount of Shakespeare references. Holling begins halfway through the book to use Shakespeare lines such as "toads, beetles, bats, light on you!" as his go-to curses, and the results are rather hilarious. He also begins to mix and match his Shakespeare lines, making up his own curses like "strange stuff, the dropsy drown you." His teacher Mrs. Baker seems really awesome, and for once in my life I almost envied a public school kid for having teachers who weren't his parents! But then again, my parents aren't as horrible as Holling's so I don't need a teacher like Mrs. Baker.
And tthat brings me to Holling's family. I hate his father, I really do. I also have zero sympathy for his mother. The father steamrolls, the mother gets steamrolled, and anything and everything must be sacrificed in the pursuit of appearances for the sake of his father's career. The first time his father told Holling to behave nicely to someone because it was important to his father's career, I was okay with it. The second time I was annoyed. By the end of the book, if he so much as started a sentence with the phrase "____? As in related to ____?" I just wanted to punch him. When Holling talked about his life, all his father heard was "business potential!" I empathized much more with Holling's sister Heather. She was about my age, and supported everything her father detested. She wanted to join the flower children in protest against the Korean war, but her father basically called her an idiot who would make him look bad in front of potential customers, and forced her to act the part of the perfect daughter. I don't blame her at all for what she did later in the book, and I love Holling all the more for the way he was the only one who supported her when things got rough.
Basically, this is probably one of the best Newberry Honor books I have ever read. If you think it looks interesting, then go read it! I promise it's worth your time.