Gary Schmidt's The Wednesday Wars (paperback just out from Sandpiper, a Houghton Mifflin imprint) came highly recommended by my most trusted reader of all things young adult (as well as the Newbery committee, although I tend not to trust them nearly as much). It did not disappoint. Set at the height of the Vietnam War, this is the story of a young man (the improbably named Holling Hoodhood) trying to come to grips with life, which for him includes Shakespeare, seventh grade, a most unpleasant father ... and two escaped rats.
This book does it all. It's cliched to say it, but since it's true I'll say it anyway: I laughed, I cried. I had to put it down because it disturbed me, and at other times I found myself trying to read faster to find out what would happen next. As Holling finds himself learning from Shakespeare and his teacher (who, he is convinced, must hate him for making him read it), he discovers - entirely without meaning to - that there are lessons to be learned from the Bard (as well as a few good curses).
Schmidt's captured his young narrator perfectly, and there are several passages here that are among the best I've ever read, anywhere. A top-notch use of language and humor, filled with life's struggles large and small.