YA Parent Problem: Pick up a young adult novel, and you’ll see lots of things: fighting against dystopian regimes, standing up to the school jocks, wielding swords and magic talismans. What you don’t see a ton of: Parents. As in, actively involved parents. The kind who ask how your day standing up to the jocks or the high mage went.
It’s easy enough to understand why parents have disappeared from YA lit. Without parents involved, the teen characters are pushed to make decisions on their own without the safety net of adults. That’s kind of the whole thrust of YA. We’re taking a peek into the decisions teens make that’ll shape who they become. That’s what I love about it: All these new experiences and challenges that really make a character—and by extension, the reader—face their core truths. And it’s not like taking parents out of the equation is new. Look at classic, parent-free examples like The Secret Garden, Oliver Twist, and the new classic Harry Potter. It’s even more prevalent when you consider other media. Quick: Name a Disney movie that includes two involved parents. You could stretch and say The Lion King, yet Mufasa lasts, what, ten minutes before he’s a goner and Simba is out on his own.
But, let’s face it: When I was sixteen I wasn’t exactly running to Mom and Dad to solve all my problems. Who’d I talk to? My friends … just like the characters I love to read. They’re figuring it out on their own, just like we all were. They may be figuring out how to slay a dragon and save their BFF from a fairy plague, but is it all that different from trying to figure out how to stop a friend from getting blackout drunk at an unsafe place?
The parent issue in YA also addresses another very real problem. Some parents suck. Some parents are unreachable and untrustworthy. The truth of that needs to be represented in YA, and I think it is to a certain extent. I would never want to read a slew of YA where the parents are some unrealistic ideal, waking up their kid daily with a pancake breakfast and a sing-a-long.
Yet I still think YA is missing a full representation of that other option: Good parenting. Perhaps it’s not so much a parent problem as a parent absence. And sometimes that absence feels, well, absent. Sometimes we want to read about a caring adult who can give us advice and be a touchstone for who we’re becoming. Hell, I’m thirty-one and I still want that sometimes.
Showing good parenting was something I kept in mind when writing Creature Discomforts, my YA fantasy novella. I wanted to show main character Rachel with a supportive, caring mother. Rachel’s mom may not always be able to help her daughter, but I think part of Rachel’s confidence comes from knowing she’s got Daphne by her side.
Other great examples can be found in books like The Fault in Our Stars and Anne of Green Gables. In John Green’s comic cancer book—Yes, really. Go read it immediately.—main character Hazel has two parents who support her, love her, fight for her, and can still let her find her own way. It’s really an amazing book. Looking at the whole parent thing from another angle, Lucy Maud Montgomery’s classic Anne series shows us an orphan girl who finds unlikely—and hands-down awesome—parents in an elderly brother and sister. And coming in with realistic portrayals of both good and bad parenting is the unforgettable Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell. We see both sides of the parenting coin with Park’s loving—if perhaps a bit misguided—parents juxtaposed against Eleanor’s mentally and emotionally absent mother and mega-creep of a step-father.
So what do I want in my YA parents? A little bit of everything. Just like in life.
Jenny is a writer and editor based in Denver, CO. Reading and writing YA is her first love, and she spends an inordinate amount of time dreaming up fantastical worlds for kick-ass heroines. Jenny also splits her time as an assistant editor for Month9Books, a YA publisher. Creature Discomforts, her YA fantasy e-novella, is the first in The Descendants trilogy being released by indie publisher Buzz Books USA.
When not writing or editing, Jenny enjoys exploring the mountains and lakes of Colorado, shopping local, dominating at trivia and traveling. She lives in an old Victorian house with her husband and two lazy tabbies named after Harry Potter characters.
Learn more about Jenny, her writing and travels at . Or, you can follow her on Twitter , , , or even . Happy reading!