Thursday, April 29, 2010

Parents in YA

I came across a New York Times article via Publisher's Weekly Children's Bookshelf talking about parents in YA books. Steph Su came across that same article and commented on it for a moment in her well thought out post about what's missing in YA lit. What I wanted to talk about was not what's missing in YA necessarily but what's there already. How do you feel about it?

That NYT article basically states that parents in YA have gone from absentee to degenerate and based on a poll done in the 70s, the depictions of parents in YA were only about 5% accurate. While I thank the NYT for giving us such up-to-date data (O_0), I think the reason why YA books now with less-then-stellar parents are doing so well because teens can, shock! relate to them. While not every teen lives in a shit hole, not every teen lives in Stepford either. I don't know about you but from what I've been reading, it's been a decent balance of "damaged" families to "nuclear" ones.

From the writing side, there is always the problem of what to do with the parents. You can't really focus on them too much because it is, after all, a YA book so focusing on an adult would pretty much defeat the purpose. So we have to dispose of them somehow. So they become workaholics, drug addicts that don't give a shit, alcoholics that are passed out on the kitchen table, or just not there to begin with. In my own manuscript, the parents are totally absent until the last chapter of the book not because there's anything wrong with them. It's July so the main characters are on summer vacation and their parents are at work. Mom's a 9 to 5 office type and Dad's a carpenter. Their presence is not needed in the book so why have them there?

In the book I just finished reading, the main character's mom is an alcoholic that works at a nursing home and the dad's totally absent. There are reasons for this that are revealed at the end of the book but for the most part, we're led to believe that the MC lives in this less than stellar situation kind of complacently. There are parents killed in CIA spy games, mine explosions, car accidents; parents that work too much, that are alcoholics, that are drug addicts, that are just too damn lazy to give a shit. Why not write about them?

That's where my problem is. That article kind of pokes at today's YA parents and asks, "Why don't you just disappear like the rest? Why do you have to cause so much trouble?" Could it be because there are kids out there actually living like this? Broken homes and alcoholic parents are abound all over the world. So why not have YA lit reflect current society? Everything else in the story does. So why stop with the parents? Especially if it fits the story?

There's nothing wrong with having degenerate parents in YA lit because there are degenerate parents in the world that have no business being parents to begin with. Teens suffer with this every single day. At the very least give them some solace in a book with a character they can genuinely relate to because they're going through the same exact thing.

What do you think? Have parents in YA become too degenerate? Too absent? Do you think they should be more involved in a main character's life? Or do you think today's YA has a fairly accurate representation of parents across the board?

5 comments: said...

Very well said. I can't say with authority why YA authors always have less than stellar parents or even absentee parents, but my feeling is because if the parents were involved then the story/plot would have to be different.I mean if your parents were always in your business then you wouldn't be able to kiss vampires or run with the fey at all hours of the day/night. So, what I am saying is that it is for convenience.

jessjordan said...

I do get a little annoyed when the parents in every book are exactly the same--either absent, druggies, are completely up in the MC's world. I like all of these types of stories, but if you're going to use a tried-and-true, put a little spin on it. Make it different.

That said: I don't know about all of you, but I don't read YA books to learn about parents. So honestly? I could give a shit. :)

Kelsey said...

Great post. A lot of YA books I read completely put the parents down and make them look stupid. But I guess it's true to what teenagers normally think: they don't think their parents know as much as they really do.

Donna said...

It really is a hard balance to make. The teens need to have enough space to do what they need to do but if the parents are there and in the picture, you don't want them too passive because it doesn't come off as realistic enough but if they're too overbearing, that also comes off as realistic. So how do you win.

I like what Kelsey said, about them being seen through the teens' eyes. Unless the POV is omniscient, the parents are going to be colored through the teens' POV so there is going to be a slant there.

Laina said...

I'm sorta guilty of this in my own WIP. Both of them are dead and my MC lives with her aunt and uncle. Who are pretty well involved, but sometime it's a bit hard for me to write that convincingly because my mom is a single mother and I haven't spoken to my father since I was 8. Write what you know and all that.

I personally think that most if not all teens have some issue or another with their parents whether it's as drastic as a drug and alcohol problem or simply a clash of personality, and it's unrealistic to portay adults otherwise. And it's not interesting to read about people with perfect lives!!! lol.

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