Not Guilty by Michael M. Guevara
Somehow this seems like one of those things that I should be embarrassed to admit, but I like watching Judge Judy. Maybe the show serves as a reminder that my own life, for all its chaos, resembles an episode of Leave It To Beaver when compared to the human drama paraded before Judge Judy. It could also be that I don’t have enough snark in my life and Judge Judy provides that for me.
But Judge Judy also makes me wonder about what else should supposedly embarrass me. As a nearly 50 year-old man, I am probably supposed to be embarrassed to admit that I enjoy reading young adult literature. When I taught high school English, I could explain away my YA lit condition as falling under the clause of other duties as assigned. As the father of a soon-to-be freshman in college and a seventh grader, (my oldest son is a college sophomore) I could rationalize my propensity for reading YA lit as parental obligation. After all, shouldn’t I know what my children are reading? Shouldn’t I be able to make informed suggestions of books for them to read?
While the answer to both these questions is yes, the answer is only marginally related to the reason there are shelves in my house stacked with all manner of young adult literature. As I write this, a slight contortion to the shelves behind me reveals panoply titles. I can see Prodigy by Marie Lu, the School of Fear trilogy by Gitty Daneshvari, Small as an Elephant by Jennifer Richard Jacobson, Planet Tad by Tim Carvell, When Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley, and so many more that are equally deserving of mention. Basically, the truth is that I read young adult literature for the simple, ludic pleasure of reading young adult literature.
Back when bookstores hosted midnight release parties for the latest J.K. Rowling offering de jour, people of all ages were allowed to saunter about freely, unabashedly carrying tomes intended for children. Grown men could openly admit their hearts broke and their eyes leaked tears at the death of Dobby. People of all ages and all backgrounds could speculate about what form their patronus might take. But young adult literature has so much to offer beyond the titles that achieve cult status. Beyond wizards, vampires, and tributes, there are myriad selections out there in the young adult world to meet the tastes, needs, and interests of anyone—even nearly 50-year men who like Judge Judy Sheindlin.
Piquing my interest of late is Anne Ursu’s The Real Boy. Before the first chapter ends, you already really like Oscar and wish for really bad things to befall Wolf. When Oscar whispers “‘I am useful,’” and doesn’t know if it’s to prove it to Wolf or for his own benefit, you are reminded of all the times in your own life that you wanted to matter to someone. You are reminded of the inner small voice that squeaks your importance while so many louder voices thunder the opposite. You can’t help but to hope and think that the greatness within Oscar will reveal itself in triumph.
And as much as you want to dislike Wolf, you also want to know, to understand what creates a character like Wolf. What could possibly make someone so young so mean? Earlier this evening, I heard about a friend’s daughter asking her mother if she could go to the birthday party of a girl from school because the other girls in school had all decided they would not go and were laughing about how embarrassed this girl would be when no one showed up to her party. What makes people behave this way? What makes others feel the need to inflict pain on others and relish in it? Middle school is hard. Life is hard, so sometimes we need these characters to help us understand ourselves and others.
But really, ultimately, the reality is that we get to like what we like, and we don’t have to be embarrassed by it. This is not to say that other literature has no appeal to me. Along with my Judge Judy fascination, I have my other television passions. I hunker down in my favorite chair for Benedict Cumberbatch in Sherlock on the BBC. As a Whovian, I get practically giddy for new episodes of Doctor Who, and I have regular Facebook discussions with other Braverman wannabes after new episodes of NBC’s Parenthood. It is no different with books. At the same time I am enjoying Ursu’s book, I am also thoroughly engrossed in Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Lowland. While reading Reign of Error by Diane Ravitch, I flagged so many pages in the book that it looked like the opening ceremony of the Olympics. And while there are books on my shelves screaming, “Pick me!” my wallet is on the verge of combustion to purchase Paul Harding’s Tinkers and Michael Chabon’s Telegraph Avenue.
Young adult literature is not the Judge Judy of the literature world. No offense to Judge Judy, but the quality and scope of offerings in the world of young adult literature dwarf the number of cases she could ever hope to hear. It’s just that when it comes liking Judge Judy and YA lit, I’m guilty—and that’s not embarrassing at all.
Michael M. Guevara is a former English and journalism teacher. He is working on his first novel and conducts professional development workshops for English/language arts teachers. Married to a kindergarten teacher and the father of three sons, Michael spends most of the money he makes as a consultant for The Texas Association of School Boards on books, tuition, and Diet Coke. You can find out more about Michael at wonk-ink.com.