Monday, February 28, 2011

Non-Existent Parents in YA

So, those of us that read YA regularly can usually bet that the parents of the main character are most of the time a) dead b) don't care about them c) away or gone for some reason or d) are too wrapped up in their own affairs to notice that their teen is sneaking out every night or whatever.

My crit partners and I were discussing this during our weekly chat.  At one point someone goes, "Wait...are all of the parents in our stories dead?"  We kinda looked at each other for a second and we all nodded and agreed that yes, at least one parent in our stories was dead.  (there are 4 of us in the group, and we all write YA fantasy).

I've come to the conclusion that it's just easier that way.  If the parent is nonexistent, then it's way easier to let the main character do what he or she needs to do and accomplish their personal journey.  If there was a parent in the way, always making them check in (especially in fantasy- I mean, look at all the quests and journeys these teens go on- no parental units is practically a staple in YA fantasy) it'd be a pretty boring book.

So I'd like to say this to my own parents- I definitely don't wish you dead.  I'm very very glad you are alive.  And to those parents who notice that their teen's YA books' parents tend to be out of the picture, don't take it personally.  Your teen doesn't wish you dead (at least I hope not), and it's all just part of the story.  That's what being a teen is all about- escaping to a fantasy world for an hour or two a day where the teen makes all the decisions without the parent breathing down their necks.  Of course they will mess up- it's what teens do.  But seriously, we don't need to be lectured in real life AND in books.

BUT.  I am not saying everyone should start killing off the 'rents.  I've read books where they were very active and present, and are significant to the story.  I'm just saying, if you notice the trend, it's just an easy peasy way to get those main characters off and by themselves so they can go on their emotional as well as physical journey without having to call mom every 5 minutes.

What do you as writers think of this?  How about you as parents?  How about as a reader- do you notice and are bothered by it, or is it just pretty normal to you?

30 comments:

Angela Felsted said...

It does bug me. I have to admit that. It's turned into somewhat of a cliche, those non-existent YA parents. But then, if you write an overly controlling parent, some people call that cliche as well. So is there anyway to really win?

D. U. Okonkwo said...

Nathan Branford did a post o this a few months ago He also came to the conclusion that it was easier to have non-existent parents in kids books.

I think writers of YA should get the parents involved in the plights of their kids - how much fun would that be? :)

Regina said...

It is pretty normal these days for their to be a single parent in the household due to death, divorce and abandonment. It does tend to make the story easier and gives depth to the character and their traits. Great post.

Sophia the Writer said...

That's another thing I love about fantasy - you can set it in the "olden times" or "other times" when being off on your own at a young age is normal. :)

Often the journey for fantasy IS the one of leaving home; so the crux of the story hinges around being independent from one's parents. Okay no more lit crit talk for me.

Laurel Garver said...

I have a dead parent in my story, but that's the whole point of the book--what it's like to grieve a parent.

I liked what Sophia said about teens having adult-like roles in their communities in other eras. It was normal in the Middle Ages. By 14 or 15, many girls were married, and boys were apprenticed at 7 and well on their way to journeyman in a craft by the teen years.

I do wonder what milennials with helicopter parents think. Does the absent parent phenom scare them? I like the idea of having confrontatons between kids and parents--Engagement and give and take within the family while the kid is trying to individuate.

Angela Darling said...

Hahahaha.. I was JUST saying this to someone yesterday! It certainly makes it a little easier when a parent is MIA, but I think I'd be interested to see a story in which the parents aren't missing. It makes it more realistic... but, then again, as you said, that's what makes it interesting. That's what make it a fantasy. I think it would be a tough thing to write, but I think I would like to see it.

Kindros said...

I never really thought about this, but it is true. It is easier to let the characters go on and do whatever they want if the parents aren't present. Having parents in the way would make for an interesting time as well though. Might paint the main character in a bad light though if they disregard authority and are always sneaking off.

Jen Chandler said...

I have to agree. My characters usually mention their parents or their parents are involved in the first few chapters. After that, it's all the MC and his/her pals. It is easier that way. And you're right: no one likes to be lectured while trying to save the world (just ask Ron Weasley...;))

Cheers!
Jen

The Golden Eagle said...

I've read YA books with parents in them who actually played a big part, and it worked well for the story--one would be Impossible by Nancy Werlin.

Shallee said...

I think it depends a lot on how it's done. To me, it just depends on the story and what it needs. If it feels too forced that the parents are gone just so the kid can do whatever he/she wants, it can get too cliche. But if it's a part of the plotline, I don't mind as much.

Melissa said...

Well, you know I have a dead parent. ;)

I think it really does help add depth to our characters in a relateable, understandable way. It forces our characters to be adults and make decisions on their own.

That being said, my next idea both parents are active and involved in my MC's life. I think it makes for a whole different type of conflict that will add a layer to the story - parents that the character loves getting in their way.

I don't think absentee parents are a cliche. I don't really think that it's something that can be considered a cliche. It's too real nowadays (unfortunately). A lot of kids have absentee parents.

Donea Lee said...

I also read the post about this on Nathan Bransford's blog a while back. I hadn't really thought about it before. It just seemed the way to go and I have a dead parent in my YA fantasy as well, so...guess I'm good with it! :)

Jennie Bailey said...

I must admit that for my next two books - parents are still alive. Both sets. Well, it's hinted and believed that one set are dead in my dystopian, but they are not. I think it's funny that all of us had at least one parent dead. Hilarious! But who cares? There are no rules and that's how stories are set this time around! As long as it works in the story, which it does in all of ours, there is no reason for them not to be! :-)

Lydia K said...

Seems like it must be for many YA books, though not all. And often, there's a "weak" parental figure, like a single parent who's away a lot, or a grandparent instead.

I've done everything--parents, an uncle, a dead parent replaced by another de-facto parent. But in all of them, the protag has to work things out by themselves.

David Powers King said...

Spot on, Abby!

It all depends on what's out at the moment. The pendulum swings, so to speak, for non-existent to over-bearing. My idea? Make each family member unique. Not every family member has the same traits.

Meredith said...

I definitely see the value in killing off your MC's parents or having them be less than present, but it's always interesting, too, to see the family dynamic.

Colene Murphy said...

Ha! So true. Sooo true. It is just easier. BUT both my parents are alive in my second novel. Well, actually, all the parents are alive. But they do play a huge role in it so...I guess unless parent's are really important they are just dead or gone ;)

T C Mckee said...

Definitely the norm in almost every book I read. After a few chapters though, I don't think much about it. I think there's a happy medium oout there. One where the parents could be there and in the story, caring, and attentive. Cool enough to hang out with the vampire boyfriend, or sweep up the glitter after so and so's wings leave glitter on the kitchen floor. That would be way cool.

T C Mckee said...

Oh and BTW, as a mother who has had to be open enough to accept Jersey Shore, I think I could handle a little glitter and a few fangs. Just saying.

Ron Smith said...

You are so right with the absent parents. My current WIP has Dad out of the picture. He left the family when my MC was five,and the mom plays a very small role, but of no real significance.

My main problem with writing about teens is the school day. Maybe I should have placed it during the summer when kids are out of school.

Nice blog you have!

Michelle Merrill said...

It's true...but it makes for a better story. The parent's don't have to be dead, but they can't be there to help. They're either gone, too busy, don't care, or the kid just doesn't want to bother the parent so they take on the responsibility to fix the 'problem' all by themselves. I'm okay with it.

The first book I wrote had two loving parents and a fun little sister. It totally worked because the protag didn't want to bother her family with her problems...and she was threatened not to tell anyone anyway :)

Talli Roland said...

I never actually thought about this, but now that you've pointed it out -- you're right! I wonder if there's another way to get around that?

NiaRaie said...

I've noticed that in Fantasy the parents are dead and in contemporary, a parent has died tragically leaving much emo baggage with the MC. And if the parents aren't dead? The relationships are strained. Which makes sense b/c every teen knows that their "parents are clueless, duh." :)

alexia said...

I've noticed it, but I agree with you, I think it's a convenience thing for the story to be able to happen.

Rachel Morgan said...

I've definitely noticed this (how could one not? Like you said, it's everywhere in YA!) and I've even seen reminders in writing tips that it's just not realistic for EVERY child to come from a broken home.

I think there needs to be a good, believable reason why the parent/s are not present, a reason that is part of the story, rather than just -- the parents are not in the story for convencience sake.

But it's definitely easier not to have them there!

mom (kid's librarian) said...

Thanks for the good wishes. You will see this in books for younger readers too, and not just fantasy. A popular devise is the use of the boarding shcool to get kids out of their element.

Medeia Sharif said...

I don't think about it when I'm reading. I like the autonomy of YA characters. I also appreciate the novels with present parents. It depends on the story.

erica and christy said...

Most of the dad's in my novels commit suicide - or at least try. No reflection of my own really cool dad. :)
erica

Andy said...

As so many have said I think the the absent or weak parents in YA lead to the MC taking the burden upon themselves. I think this is something that teens relate to because who has not felt like they have had to take up the slack for parents during our teen years. In my writing I have tried to make the situation of the world lead to divison of the MC from the family. They have been there and come back into the story frequently, but since the MC has to go to a different geographic location for training I have a built in tool for removing the parents. But like you I do find it interesting that if you find that there is a missing parent you know that you are reading YA or watching a Disney movie.

Sam said...

It's kind of weird when the parents just disappear, honestly. I mean, in books like Linger, the parents suck. But they're real. They react in way I'd expect. It makes the book that more real, even though it's talking about wearwolves.