Friday, April 2, 2010

Got A Bad Parent? Then You Must Be Writing Young Adult!

I think I laughed my whole way through this New York Times' article.

The article is not exactly supporting YA literature, but the observation the author, Julie Just, makes seems pretty true. She comments that "the bad parent is enjoying something of a heyday." She observes that a large amount of parents in YA literature are either "mopey, inept, distracted or ready-for-rehab."

I have to admit that I'm following the trend. Kate's mom has passed away a year before the novel starts and her father is unable to get over this loss ("mopey"...check!). He throws himself into basketball as a way to deal with his loss ("distracted"...check!) and when Kate comes to him with concerns about bother her brother and the basketball team, he is unable to acknowledge what is going on ("inept"....check!). Looks like I'm following the trend!

I'm just glad that the NYT is writing so much about YA literature lately. The recognition can only help.

What are your thoughts on this? Do you have "bad parents?" Do you think it's important to show "good parent?" Share, share, share!


Christina Lee said...

LOL-- I think they are onto something. Lots of YA's I've read have bad or absent parents. I have one good and one bad. Otherwise, how can our protags get away with stuff? ;-)

Lisa Nowak said...

Yup, I have several bad parents. In fact I had to go through one of my manuscripts and make changes so that two mothers were ineffectual because of their afflictions rather than just being spiteful. I try to go for "complicated" when I have to have a bad parent for the plot to work. And I make the characters feel conflicted about their parents, loving them in spite of their failings.

I think there are books with good parents out there, though. LK Madigan's Flash Burnout, and most of Chris Crutcher's books.

Matthew Rush said...

Hi Rachele, thanks for sharing that article. I definitely think you're right about parents in YA literature. It seems like writers might be concerned that normal, loving parents would make their story, their MC, or both ... boring.

I must admit my own YA WIP sort of has this in it. The MC has a deceased mother and a falsely incarcerated father, so I suppose that applies. His guardians are certainly bad, and that's a big reason he ends up at reform school.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

Shameless promotion:

Please visit my blog and comment today. I have a post by guest blogger Justine Dell where she shares an ACTUAL query letter of hers that found success.

She is a wonderful lady, always willing to help another writer and I would really like her to get the recognition she deserves.


Kristan said...

I think in YA the trends are to either have bad parents or absent ones (dead, working, whatever). Because it's the easiest way to keep parents from interfering with the story.

Which is not to say that I don't fall into that trap...

In one YA manuscript I have a dead mother but an excellent father who travels constantly for work.

In another, I have an unknown father and a mother who abandoned the girl. (Well she comes into play... sort of... shhh.)

And then in my most recent, it's another unknown (irrelevant) father, but a really great mom who IS there and present in the story.

Maybe I'm learning to fight the trend? :P

But honestly, I do want to write YA books that show present parents, because I had great ones, and I think parents are such an important part of a kid/teen's life. Or should be, anyway.

rarabecca said...

I think every Young Adult or even adult with parents have something they wished their parents would do differently or have handled differently. Young Adults are trying to find their identity and these books represent the struggles they find. As for them need to have bad parents probably not but hyperbole makes interesting stories. People think "wow that person was brave, my life isn't that crappy" I think I had a pretty normal upbringing and stories of my youth probably wouldn't have been book worth. Married Parents, 2 brothers, graduated high school, went to college, graduated have a good job now, married. Nothing extraordinary I had to overcome, nothing outlandish that would be interesting. People also love the redemption. This is probably why. I thought it was a good article and probably just acknowledging similarities in YA books, not deflating the purpose.

maybe genius said...

Well... that's a trend in YA for a reason. YA lit is about the TEEN taking control and moving the story forward of their own volition, not being guided every step of the way by an adult :)

Which isn't to say at all that a good parent or adult figure doesn't have a place in YA, but the teens should definitely be the ones doing all the hard stuff.

Emilia Plater said...

I love this. Thanks so much for pointing it out! My MC's parents are okay, even if she thinks they're insane - it's her deceased boyfriend's dad who gathers all the allotted bad parent craziness into one massive ball and swallows it. Personally I don't mind the trend at all, as long as it's done well. Parents are such a huge part of every teen's life, whether they're there or not, abusive or not, lame or not.

Tahereh said...

haha i think christina nailed it: if parents were perfect and responsible, then teens would never be able to get away with anything. in fact, there'd probably be no real story -- unless it was about how wonderful life is, and no one wants to read that. not in YA anyway. lol.

but that was a great article. tehe

thanks for sharing!!

Anonymous said...

Yes. It's a trend, but I also think a necessary evil when it comes to storytelling about adolescence. I mean, parents get in the way of the action! Teens hide things from their parents. As a writer, always bringing the parents around is like throwing a wet blanket on a fire. Something must be done about we kill them off, make them aloof or distracted, etc.
In my novel, the parents have been together for over 30 years...the mother is moody, disabled and in a wheelchair from a tragic accident that still affects the entire family. The father is happy-go-lucky and brings balance to the household. But, how long can a guy move cheerfully about his day with two sullen women in the house?
Very interesting topic you brought up. Thanks!