The unfortunately named boy Holling Hoodhood is starting seventh grade with a strike already against him – he’s the only Presbyterian in a class full of Jews and Catholics. While the other children are excused early on Wednesday afternoons to attend temple and mass, Holling is stuck at school, and he’s sure his teacher hates him. No doubt she was looking forward to Wednesday afternoons completely free, but with this one lone Presbyterian to look after, she’s trapped, and she takes it out on him by making him read Shakespeare’s plays. He doesn’t realize until later that she’s actually doing him a favor and expanding his horizons by doing this – nope, it’s all because she hates him.
Meanwhile, the classroom pets (rats, not really pets, just gross animals to look at, fear, and feel sorry for) get loose and make their way up into the ceiling above the classroom. For months they wander, stealing homework and the kids’ lunches, and Holling is even more sure that his teacher hates him because it’s his fault the rats are loose.
As the story progresses, we see Holling star in a Shakespearian play (wearing yellow tights with feathers on the bum) get a top spot on the track team (while being chased by two rats who want to eat him) and discover that things aren’t as hunky-dory in his family as he thought (as his sister runs away to find herself, and their father doesn’t seem to care). We also hear his thoughts on the Vietnam War, as this book takes place in that era, and the ways in which politics can divide a family and how greed can do the same thing.
I enjoyed the fresh voice of the protagonist and the wry note he lends to the narrative. I also liked the way the teacher comes to life on the page the more Holling gets to know her – misunderstandings are laid to rest and a true friendship is formed by the end of the school year.
While this book was found in the junior fiction section at the library, I’d recommend it more for young adult.
(This book was published in 2007 by Clarion Books.)