A Week in the Woods Summary

Andrew Clements

A Week in the Woods

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A Week in the Woods Summary

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“A Week in the Woods”, by Andrew Clements

Andrew Clements’ novel “A Week in the Wood” is a coming of age story.  The main character, Mark, is a spoiled rich kid who doesn’t take too kindly to moving with his parents to rural New Hampshire from the exciting hustle and bustle of New York. Unlike some middle grade novels that focus on interpersonal relationships between children, Clements instead focuses on the Mark’s relationship with his teacher, Mr. Maxwell.

As the story begins, Mark Chelmsley is less than thrilled about the family’s move from Scarsdale, a wealthy suburb outside New York, to an old farm house in New Hampshire they hope to convert into a mansion. Mark is even less thrilled that his parents’ work has kept them from accompanying him on the drive north. The reader soon discovers that this is not a new state of affairs. There is a deeply engrained chip on his shoulder, undoubtedly the product of neglect on the part of his parents who are too focused on their careers to give Mark the attention and nurturing he needs.

He is cared for by two employees of the Chelmsley household, Leon and Anya, a Russian couple.  They are the ones who drive Mark to his new home and are his primary caregivers in his parent’s absence. When they arrive in New Hampshire, Mark surveys his new living situation and is summarily unimpressed. He has a similar reaction to his new school and decides that making friends and actively participating in classwork is an exercise in futility. Even his new teacher, Mr. Maxwell’s announcement about the annual tradition of a “week in the woods” is not enough to change Mark’s mind. Mr. Maxwell however, decides to give Mark a chance in spite of his attitude. Despite his good intentions, Mr. Maxwell cannot ignore the fact that Mark and his family embody one of the very things he dislikes the most.  Clements explains it thusly: “the only people Mr. Maxwell disliked more than slackers were environmentally insensitive, buy-the-world rich folks…. [and] their lazy, spoiled kids.” Mark fits the bill on all accounts.

Mark’s nonchalance is further exacerbated by the fact that his time at Hardy Elementary School will be short lived. The following year, his parents have decided to send him to Runyon Academy, one of the best boarding schools in the country. Mark finds the coursework at Hardy ludicrously easy, comprised primarily of concepts he’d already covered at the prestigious schools he attended in New York. So it comes as little surprise to the reader that Mark refuses to take a vested interest in school. And despite Mr. Maxwell’s attempts to make his class as engaging for Mark as possible, he isn’t having any of it. At one point, Mr. Maxwell’s attempts to encourage Mark to participate backfires when the boy spoils a chemistry experiment for the rest of the class.  Still, the frustrated teacher tries to believe Mark can do better.  He tells Mark about the upcoming week in the woods trip, to which Mark replies, “‘Does everyone have to go?’”

As the story progresses, the reader discovers that, despite his attitude in the classroom, his disposition about New Hampshire begins to fundamentally shift. Since homework is more of a breeze for him than a burden, Mark has ample time to explore and enjoy his new surroundings. He is in awe of the snow-covered landscape he sees outside the windows of the farmhouse, and he begins to warm up to a few of his classmates at school. Finally, Mark becomes so enthralled with his new environment that, as one writer puts it, [KH1] “if Anya weren’t around, he would hardly stop exploring his new environment to eat”. Eventually, he even becomes excited about the week in the woods trip and starts to look forward to it.

Despite snubbing his nose at Mr. Maxwell’s initial invitation to the trip, his teacher reluctantly allows him to attend. During the week, Mr. Maxwell is surprised to discover that his relationship with Mark is beginning to improve. But this surprisingly positive turn of events is derailed when a knife is discovered in the tent Mark shares with a fellow classmate. Mark decides to take the blame for having a (forbidden) pocketknife, even though it belongs to his classmate. This is an unexpected act of kindness to be sure.  However, Mark pays the ultimate price, as Mr. Maxwell decides to kick Mark off the trip for “breaking” the rules. Instead of heading back home, Mark decides to try and navigate the woods on his own. Mr. Maxwell discovers that Mark in fact had nothing to do with the contraband found in his tend and goes looking for Mark in the woods. Mr. Maxwell’s efforts to find Mark are successful, although the teacher is injured in the process and must rely on Mark’s help to make it back to the encampment.

It is here that Clements’ tale takes its most dramatic plot shift. Mr. Maxwell realizes that his own prejudices have, to a degree,  caused him to treat Mark unfairly. The two finally come to a mutual understanding that communication is key, and each promises to be more forthcoming with the other in the future.

 

 [KH1]One writer? Who? Andrew Clements, or someone else?