September 21


Radio Road Rage by Michael M. Guevara

Normally, talking back to the radio in the car seems, well, pretty normal to me. I’ve been known to argue back with radio, hurl some particularly spicy bon mots, and spew more than a few NSFW rage-fueled diatribes (I may have to actually donate to my public radio station to feel fully justified in my reactions.), but who knew that it would take a book review to push me from driver’s seat critic to keyboard tapping mad man?

Book reviews are fairly docile territory for me. My responses typically fall between “Eh, not for me,” to “let me add that to my Library-of-Congress-sized wish list,” but this review, rather an introductory phrase, an independent clause and a dependent clause from this review, got me hotter than a billy goat in a pepper patch.

While I’m certain Jason Sheehan is an excellent writer (after all, he reviews books for NPR), he must certainly know that not all books are for all people. Some people really liked his book Tales From the Radiation Age. One review on Amazon called it, “quirky and brilliant piece of literature.”

But not everyone agrees.

On Goodreads, one reviewer called reading Sheehan’s work, “a slow form of torture.” Still, this isn’t the point. It’s not about liking someone’s writing. You might not like my writing and are growing increasing angry with me for not yet revealing the content of that introductory phrase, independent clause, and dependent clause. That’s okay. Sometimes we sit through really bad movies because we already paid for the ticket or suffer through awful television because we can’t find the remote.

My rage arose not from an issue of style but from a matter of context, from a belief in the just-right-book for the reader. Pitting books against one another in a cage match of the elites defeats the purpose of creating life-long readers some many teachers, parents, and authors strive to achieve.

Hang in there, I’m getting to the introductory phrase, independent clause, and dependent clause right now. In reviewing Perfidia by James Ellroy, Sheehan describe the book as, “a long and sprawling book with about a million pages and 10,000 characters,” and then wrote (here it is), “if that kind of thing scares you, go back to your Hunger Games and leave the grown-ups alone.”

Are adults supposed to be embarrassed for reading and enjoying The Hunger Games? Is young adult literature inherently inferior because it’s young adult literature? Why not write, “go back to your Tales From the Radiation Age”?

What Mr. Sheehan fails to appreciate in his aspersion of Suzanne Collins’s wildly, hugely, massively popular work is that by turning people on to reading with a book they love, a book they enjoy, a book they can’t put down, you lead them to other books—maybe even to Perfidia or Tales From the Radiation Age or mine when I get through my revisions.

When future prison space is determined by the reading scores of elementary students, mocking a book that has masses of people turning to reading, many for the first time, seems, if only to be rhetorically hyperbolic, criminal.

Reading The Hunger Games, or any young adult literature, doesn’t make you less of reader any more than reading more complex literature makes you more of a reader—it just makes you a reader—and that’s what all we writers should want.

Michael M. Guevara is an instructional coach in English Language Arts and Reading for the San Antonio Independent School District. He is currently typing and revising his first novel and conducts professional development workshops on authentic writing instruction. Married to a kindergarten teacher and the father of three sons, Michael spends most of his time thinking about books, tuition, and Diet Coke. You can find out more about Michael at