Thursday, January 14, 2010

Think About It Thursday (1): Absentee Parents in YA/MG books

Image used under Creative Commons - Original belongs to Salady
So I’ve been really thinking about doing this weekly meme/discussion about topics that make people think. I've come up with Think About It Thursday. This may or may not be weekly, but I'll try to do it every once in a while.

For the first Think About It Thursday, I want to discuss parents/parental figures in YA and MG books.

Absentee parents seem to be a recurring theme in many YA and MG books. I don’t know if it’s just more convenient to have parents that aren’t around or if kids and teens are just more interesting without their parents. Obviously, a lot of things that happen in YA/MG books could not happen if parents were always around, but it would still be nice if they were there a bit. Maybe I’d like to see more relationships within the family because I’m a very family-oriented person, but the serious lack of parental figures in so many YA books bothers me. I’m not saying that some book opened my eyes to the lack of parental figures in YA/MG books, but I have noticed it.

In some instances, it seems perfectly plausible that parental figures aren’t around. Beautiful Creatures and The Secret Year, as well as many others I’m sure, present situations where it makes sense that parents aren’t around. In Beautiful Creatures, Lena doesn’t live with her parents, but she has Macon, who is a great parental figure. Ethan’s dad was never able to cope with his wife’s death, so it makes sense not to really have him around, but then Amma fills that parental role. BC is a perfect example of strong parental figures working their way into a YA novel. Macon and Amma fit perfectly in the BC world, but there are so very few parental figures that do in YA and MG novels.  In The Secret Year, Colt’s parents are there, but his mom works all the time to pay the bills and his dad drinks a lot. They are there for him, but they’re not close and that makes sense.

Then there are books like Hush, Hush, Deadly Little Secret/Deadly Little Lies, Need & Captivate, Shiver, etc that have nearly no parental interaction. Sure, some of the character’s parents are around and there are a few scenes with them, but for the most part, they don’t factor into the story at all. Each of these books works just fine without parents/parental figures (though Need & Captivate does have Grandma Betty, so including it here might be a stretch) but I find it almost annoying to see parents that care/pay attention so little.

In Hush, Hush, Nora’s mom loves here and they are said to have a strong, close relationship, but she’s never around. In Deadly Little Secret & Deadly Little Lies, Camelia’s parents barely pay attention to her. She nearly dies and they’re only around for the aftermath. She goes out to eat with her dad, but it’s brief and they never talk about important things.  In Shiver, Grace’s parents are only around, or even seem to care, when she is harmed. Her mother would be more than happy to never even pay attention to her. She’s happiest in her art studio, away from her daughter. I could even go into Twilight’s severe lack of parental figures (i.e. Charlie and Renee), but I won’t today. All of these parents/parental figures are doing a terrible job of caring for their children.

Don't get me wrong, I really enjoyed nearly all of these books and if I didn't, it certainly wasn't because of a lack of parental interaction. Now, I know this may all come off as harsh and I know the storylines may not work so well with parents actually being involved in their children’s lives, but I’d like to see a little more interaction. It appears to me that it’s easier in YA and MG books to just make parents completely oblivious to what their children are going through. That, or the parents just don’t seem to want to even care about what their children are doing.

So what are your opinions on the subject? Are absentee parents just an easier way to make the story flow or should they be a little more involved in their children’s lives? Do you think it’s even possible in most YA/MG novels to incorporate strong, parental characters while maintaining the integrity of the storyline?

Sound off on it because I’d love to see everyone’s opinions.


katie said...

I guess I never really thought about it until now. I think it may just be easier not to include the parents. I imagine it would be kind of hard to tell some of these stories with the parents because you would have to work around them a lot. The main characters wouldn't be able to do half the stuff they do if there were parents looking out for them.


Bethie said...

I think there are several reasons for the absentee parents. In some books I think it just it easier for the story to flow without parents getting involved. But in others, I think its just the way our society is. It is happening in movies too. They made such a big think about the Disney movie The Incredibles because they featured a mom and a dad because its not the norm today.

Mandy said...

The First Novels Club posted a simuliar post on the same subject here:

I agree. When I first opened up your post, the first book to come to my head was Beautiful Creatures. Also, as something my mom used to say to me when I would point out why a haracter doesnt just do the simple thing to fix all his problems: It just wouldn't be an interesting story.
If the YA parents acted like real parents should, then they wouldn't be able to run off and do the things they do, and we wouldn't have a story.

pepsivanilla said...

Well, parents in most of the books I've read are either not there, mentioned sometimes, or do something that causes massive rebellion and therefore most of the plot. But that 3rd category consists of about 3 books.

The book that popped into my mind is Impossible, by Nancy Werlin, where the parents play a big role, and I believe it's one of the books mentioned in the post Mandy linked to.

Bere said...

What a fantastic post!

Your right. I had actually never thought about this until now w/ your post. Now that I think back to some of the books I've read, the parents are hardly ever mentioned.

I suppose it is easier for the story to flow without the parents. The main characters are able to get away with things that maybe they wouldn't be able to if the parents were around.

Impossible, by Nancy Werlin was the book that popped into my mind also. I'm currently reading this book. And Pepsivanilla your right, the parents in this book play a major role.

Rebekah E. said...

I think the parent being there or being absentee greatly depends on the characters and the story itself. Either way can make a really great book.

Jessy said...

I have thought of this before, but I think since the parents aren't around the stories flow better. Kids wouldn't be able to do half of the stuff they do with their parents in the picture. I have read a few books with the parents playing a bigger role and it would just get on my nerves that the parents were so overprotective.. ie Perfect Chemistry.

Alyssa Kirk @ Teens Read and Write said...

I think it's just easier to have kids running free to do all the exciting stuff the author wants to put in the storyline. Personally, I like it when parents are positively involved (especially parents who are still happily married).

I don't mind a lack of parenting when it works in with the plot (as you pointed out) but when it just seems like a plot device, that annoys me.

I loved Hush Hush but had a problem with the parental aspect. Nora and her mom are supposed to have this really close relationship but her mom isn't around because she has to work. I was fine with that. But when Nora realizes she is being stalked and one guy actually physically assaults her on her front porch, Nora doesn't confide in her mom. That seemed out of character with the relationship the author had portrayed and it bugged me.

I don't think many parents are as involved these days for many reasons but that isn't the case with all parents. We often laugh in our house about how myself and my brothers couldn't get away with the things that go on in these books because my parents are very involved with and aware of what we do.

So if it works in the story, I'm okay with it because I want to read a great tale with fantastical elements. But I realize it is fantasy... at least it is in my world. I guess I'm lucky.

Great post!

GreenFairyLV said...

Bethie mentioned Disney. They seem to always kill mom.
In books I think they do that a lot to give the character more room in the fanasty by not always having to explain to mom or dad. Also gives them a little back story to why they are sad/a loner/different or something. I'm trying to write a book myself. With my character she has a self absorbed mother and step father which I moved out of the country and I killed off her only other living relative.
Why did I do that? LOL

Rheanna said...

To be honest with you I think without absentee parents the characters in books might not develop into their destined protaganist or antagonist depending on books. I kno it sounds kind of cheesy but by going through abusive parents or even negligent parents we become stronger. Look at modern day ameerica or into our own lives we see it everyday. Hell, even I've grown up with an absent father and it only makes me want to be stronger.

Chutzpah said...

Excellent post! Sometimes parental absence makes a lot of sense and makes it easier for characters to do crazy things (and help the story along) but it is kind of depressing to see so many characters with detached families. I think sometimes that it is assumed that teens don't like their parents, and I don't think that's a fair assumption. Also, in cases like Nora's where the character is supposed to be close to a parent and yet this is never shown, it can be irritating.
Great subject!

Nikki (Wicked Awesome Books) said...

Wow! Thanks for such insightful opinions. The majority of people seem to feel like it's just easier to not include the parents in the story. I like the idea that the lack of parental interaction makes the character grow more. It may be cheesy, but I believe that's true.

And GreenFairyLV, if the lack of parents works in your story, then go with it. Go with your gut and what feels right for you.

And I've never read Impossible, but I'll have to check it out now.

Thanks again everyone!

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