Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Problem Parents in YA Books

I read the New York Times article on problem parents in YA lit, plus the brouhaha on the blogosphere, and I think what we have here is a case of bad editing. The article makes many observations about how the roles of parents in YA novels has changed over time. But I have no idea what the point is.

Is the author saying that there are a disproportionate number of bad parents in YA lit? She does mention a study from the 1970s that somehow uses Census and DLT data to show that "less than 3 percent of the depictions were 'realistic': in the novels, mothers were disproportionately seen as being paralyzed at home, while in real life they were beginning to go out and get jobs."

Is she saying that it was better back in the day, when authors removed parents by killing them off? She talks about how classic YA and children's lit often focuses on orphans, and then concludes by saying: "Back then parents knew how to get out of the way and let the orphan’s rise begin."

Or is she just observing how parents in YA lit have gone from absent to abusive to busy to helpless? Her example of helplessness is Sara Zarr's Once Was Lost, which I'm in the middle of (and loving). Of course, it's easy to poke holes at an article that selects just a few novels to use as examples. However, it inspired me to point out some of my favorite parents from YA lit.

Fat Kid Rules the World by K.L. Going. Troy's Dad comes off as a drill sergeant in the beginning--after all, he is an ex-marine. But Troy ultimately brings his musical genius/drug-addict friend to Dad for that dose of love and discipline that can save a kid's life.

Boy Proof by Cecil Castellucci. Maybe the dad in this one, a sci-fi movie make-up artist and costume designer, qualifies as absent, since he's divorced from Victoria's mom. But it really stuck with me the way he had a "Victoria Tuesday" clause in his contracts, which guaranteed that he hung out with his daughter every Tuesday.

An Abundance of Katherines by John Green. I can't explain why I love Hollis, the mom, so much without committing acts of spoilage for those who haven't read it. (Why haven't you read it?) But let's just say that I love the way she cheerfully pushes a rock up the hill (metaphorically), and I love her southern accent, her curse jar, and her pink pick-up.

Flipped by Wendelin Van Draanen. I admit there's a grandfather here that kind of overshadows all the other characters in terms of awesomeness, but the father who goes cheap on his own family's home so he can pay for quality care for his brother, who has some serious disabilities, definitely made an impression on me.

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