September 6, 2011

The Absent or Crappy Parent

My sister and I were talking this weekend about the TV show "The Nine Lives of Chloe King" (yes, my obsession with all things YA carries over into TV as well as books), and its blatant display of bad parenting. We were both shocked by how the MC's mom barely blinks when her 16-year old daughter tells her that she was out clubbing until all hours. Mom is more interested in the guy that her daughter met there.  Seriously? Raise your hand if your parents would have grounded your ass six ways to Sunday for this. This same daughter is out walking the streets of San Francisco at night on several occasions as well. Realistic? I sincerely hope not.

The fact is, TV is riddled with examples of crappy parenting (or complete absence of parents): 
(*Warning: slight spoilerage to follow, if you care)
  • Gossip Girl: Minors are frequently served alcohol in reputable establishments without having to produce any kind of ID. Parents never question where their kids are at and what they are up to--like underage drinking, for instance.
  • Vampire Diaries: Elana's aunt (AKA her guardian because Mom & Dad are dead) gets killed and then Elana moves in with her boyfriend and his older brother. Nobody even balks at this, even though she is still a minor. And as for her younger brother? Who the heck knows who's looking after him. 
  • 90210: I don't even know where to start with this one...
I'm sure you can think of plenty examples yourself--assuming any of you share the same embarassing tendancy to watch lame teen TV shows.

I've been reading a lot lately on various blogs and sites about the absent parent in YA fiction, a topic I hadn't really given much thought before. Nearly every story has parents/guardians who are either a) dead, b) mostly absent, or c) totally permissive. Most often it is either a) or b), I find. This is not a new thing (look at fairy tales) and serves a necessary function, as we all know. Helicopter parenting would never allow for the adventures or mishaps that take place in YA novels. Go ahead, take a look at your bookshelf. I bet most or all of your YA books have absent (for whatever reason) or crappy parents. Some examples:
*(Again, beware of possible spoilerage)
  • Twilight: Bella goes to live with her mostly estranged father so her newly remarried mother can take off with her new husband. Bella's father, Charlie, has little control over his teen daughter and is mostly out of the picture, leaving her free to romp with vampires and werewolves.
  • Hunger Games: Dead father, and grief-crippled mother, leaving Katniss to provide for the family.
  • Harry Potter: (in 9-12 category, but still) Dead parents and lousy relatives. He at least has a parade of role-models in the adults who surround him.
  • Blood Red Road: Parents out of the picture pretty well right from the start.
  • Divergent: Tris' parents are decent (especially her mom, who was great), but Tris is removed from them for the majority of the story.
  • and the list goes on...
This got me thinking about whether or not it is possible to write good, stable, loving, and present parents in YA fiction, and whether this could ever be appealing to the target audience. Immediately, a recently and fairly popular book popped into my head where, for the most part, the parents are all of the above. Cassia in Ally Condie's Matched (here I go again with this book...) has two loving and stable parents who she sees every day. The bulk of Cassia's story takes place during the day while her parents are at work, but Condie has seen no need to write them out of the picture as a plot convenience. Now, from what I understand, the second book in the series takes Cassia away from parental supervision, so this starts to break down a little. Even so, it's refreshing to read this kind of departure from stereotype. I come from a home that had two loving and present parents, so I can relate to this. But then I am also not an angsty teen who wishes Mom & Dad would go away and leave her alone...

How about you? Do you think it's possible to write loving and still living parents into YA fiction while still appealing to teens? Can you think of other examples of these kinds of parents in books you've read?


  1. Yes, I do. There are plenty of kids that grow up in a stable enviroment with loving parents.I think it is how you approach it.

  2. I agree, and yet oddly my WIP has parents conveniently working night shifts, and one parent even dying in order to provide the right set of circumstances for things to happen. Crazy how that happens...


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