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Bookworm Problems: 'Ordinary People' IS of Literary Merit

05/14/2014 04:07 pm ET | Updated Jul 14, 2014

I've read many books throughout my high school career, both in and out of the classroom. When I close my eyes, the pages of masterpieces such as Animal Farm, To Kill a Mockingbird, Siddhartha and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest float through my mind, their ink-blotted fingers cuddling my inner-bookworm in a blanket of literary finesse. Yes, I prey on books like the American public has preyed upon Frozen; to me, books are like children, all of whom are beautiful in their own way (except for The Scarlet Letter, which was downright atrocious). Now, as an AP English Literature student, I have been faced with the agonizing calamity of having some of my children deemed "unworthy" by the omnipotent Advanced Placement English Gods.

The system works like this: many of the timed prompts include in their question statements a list of works designated to be "of literary merit." While students are allowed to use novels or works outside of the list, there are also some that just don't "make the cut." To my dismay, Ordinary People by Judith Guest is one of them.

I read Ordinary People as a junior in my AP English Language class, and it was without a doubt one of the best books I have ever had the pleasure of reading. A 20th century fiction novel characterized by the themes of suicide, guilt and relentless anger, Ordinary People depicts the emotional struggles and recovery of Conrad Jarett, a high school upperclassmen whose life is interrupted by an attempt to end his own life with a razor blade.

The novel begins through the eyes of Conrad himself, who after spending time in an isolated psychiatric hospital, is haunted by morbidly vivid flashbacks and the inescapable feeling of betrayal towards his parents and his peers. Through its employment of a dual narrative structure (in which Conrad's father Calvin also participates), Ordinary People poignantly illustrates the gradual healing and rebirth of a family destroyed by their own presumptions of the human psyche. As the book progresses, relationships are further tested on a fiery battleground set by Conrad's mother Beth, who both intentionally and not, drives her son, husband and audiences to a state of insanity in which tear ducts are dry and lips sore from conflict.

Now I don't know about you, but I can still not understand why Guest's creation has yet to receive the Advanced Placement seal of approval. Surely it has more merit than something as superfluous as Catcher in the Rye, which ironically, is consistently featured on the list of acclaim. Literary merit is a very arbitrary term, since "merit" is based on what the individual interprets as possessing "aesthetic beauty." To say that a work of this caliber is not of the same level as some of the novels described above offends me deeply, especially since Ordinary People tackles an issue that many other novels have steered away from: suicide and those it affects. I one day hope to see Ordinary People approved by the AP English Program, because the truth of the matter is that it is anything but ordinary.