Saturday, December 19, 2020

Just Like That

Schmidt, Gary D. Just Like That
January 5th 2021 by Clarion Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Meryl Lee Kowalski is shattered by the death of Holling Hoodhood, the main character in The Wednesday Wars, in a car accident right before the start of 8th grade. Her parents, concerned for her, decide to send her off to board at St. Elene's Preparatory Academy for Girls. It's a hard transition, because most of the other students are more well-to-do and also have known each other for years. It's a different environment, and it makes dealing with "the Blank", the feeling that descends on her when she is thinking about Holling, both easier and harder. Dr. MacKnockater is the headmistress, who is dealing with a young man, Matt, who has ended up in town, helped out Captain Hurd, and then been found badly injured. Dr. MacKnockater takes him in and acts as his foster mother while trying to get him an education, even enrolling him in her all girls school. Matt has had a life full of trauma, and is on the run from a violent criminal who seems to be able to find him no matter where he goes. He and Meryl Lee take a shine to one another. Meryl doesn't understand the stringent social rules that teacher Mrs. Connolly in particular is insistent on enforcing, and doesn't understand why she can't read John Steinbeck (he's a Communist), talk to the serving girls (they need to know their place), or talk about the Vietnam War (it isn't a suitable topic for conversation). Luckily, Dr. MacKnockater is on Meryl Lee's side, and is able to encourage her. Meryl also finds out that her family situation is changing, and this is another reason she was sent off. She slowlly comes to terms with Holling's death, and the school helps her find new motivations for learning and living. Matt's situation comes to a horrifying head but does get resolved, and Meryl is ready to continue on to high school. 
Strengths: I'm always looking for books set in the 1960s, and boarding schools are always a fascinating setting. There are a few good details about daily like during this time period, with discussions about the war and the relatives that people had off fighting. The tension between Meryl's more progressive views and Mrs. Connolly's traditional ones is interesting. Matt's story is thought provoking, and leads to a very suspenseful end of the book. 
Weaknesses: Holling's death is the single most abrupt and upsetting one I have ever seen in fiction, although Ambrose's death in the television show Ballykissangel comes close; my daughter still hasn't gotten over that.  It's comes as a slap in the face, and rather unprocessed; no wonder Meryl Lee is beside herself. On the one hand, it's very effective writing, but it made me angry for the whole book. Again, effective, but I'm not sure how students will feel about it. Since students rarely look for sequels to books written before they were born, I'm just not sure if this would find many readers in my library. Reading this directly after reading The Wednesday Wars would be excruciating.
What I really think: This is absolutely a well written and interesting book, but I hated the way it made me feel. I almost wish that Matt's story had been told on its own, or that he had been the primary character and Meryl Lee was someone who came into his world. Debating.
 

Ms. Yingling

1 comment:

  1. I love the Wednesdays Wars. I don't know if I can handle this story!

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