I’m working on my first round of edits for Goodbye, Charlie (my first YA novel) and as I delete, rewrite, think, ponder, get a kink in my neck, go cross-eyed, I’m having to really figure out my main character’s parents. Yes, the story revolves around Charlie, but a lot of what he deals with is directly related to his parents. Which got me to thinking about the whole role of parents in YA literature.
I know there’s been discussion about how a majority of parents in YA books tend to be oh, let’s see irresponsible, absent, obtuse, naïve,etc. etc., but I have to say that in the YA books I’ve read, there’s a fair share of both. Actually, in my YA picks, pretty much all the parents in those books are pretty good parents. So, why the bad rep?
Well, because in some books the parents really are irresponsible, absent, obtuse, naïve, etc., etc. But it’s not because writers are just trying to get them out of the way, or they’re avoiding dealing with them (although I’m sure it is easier for your protagonist to get into page-turning trouble when a parent is blissfully unawares, but who wants that kind of one-dimensional parent in their story anyway). The real reason these flawed parents are popping up all over the place is because…PARENTS ARE HUMAN. That’s right. They’re human. They make mistakes. They have baggage. They didn’t deal with all their “stuff” before our YA protagonists were born, which means that some of them are awesome and some of them suck. Bottom line. But that’s okay…that’s good…hell, actually, that’s perfect! Because, really, can we show awesome parents all the time? What would that say to today’s teenager? Parents are perfect? They don’t want to hear such lies; they want real. They want to see the messiness of a not so perfect household. They want to know that others get it, that others know, that they’re not alone. And those readers who can relate to the dilemma of flawed parents probably appreciate writers shedding light on their reality. And those who have fantastic, well-balanced home lives, well, they get to see a different side of things.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not making the case for all YA parents to be these tragic figures. I mean, I do love me a great set of parents, especially if they’re uber cool like those in Gayle Forman’s If I Stay. But what I am saying is that there are going to be “bad” parents in YA lit because there are “bad” parents in real life. So, go ahead, make them less than perfect, or make them great, or better yet, make them both-so long as you make them real.
Follow me on Twitter @jetchez