Jo Talks Books: On Parents In YA Fiction

Hi everyone! Happy Mother’s Day to all my UK followers, I hope you have had a great day with your mothers/children & for those who do not have mothers/children to celebrate with, I hope your day has not been too difficult. Anyway, I figured since it was Mother’s Day today, it was the perfect time to talk about a topic that I’ve been wanting to talk about for a while: Parents, or rather, the lack of parents in YA fiction.

We all know the drill, in a lot of YA fiction, though I’ll admit, I probably have a skewed sample because I read mostly YA fantasy and parents tend to take more of a backseat in that than in contemporary YA, but still, in a lot of YA fiction, parents play little to no active role in their children’s lives, and are generally only very minor characters, if they are even mentioned at all.

Now on a practical level, I can see the appeal of this, especially in Fantasy. Heck in my own WIP, my heroine’s mother is dead and her father is a complete bastard whom she runs away from. It’s much easier for your teenage character to have adventures when their parents are not around, hovering over them to tell them to do their homework! I suppose it’s also a good way out of having to develop the parents of your MC too much if they’re rarely around/dead, although it doesn’t have to mean this, I mean think how much we know about James and Lily Potter from the HP books without them ever making a physical appearance. But still, it’s a lot more believable to have your teen characters running around having adventures if they don’t have parents than if they do (I mean can you really see any present parent wanting their kid to possibly get killed taking out bad guys?). I’d say this is probably also why you’re more likely to find present parents in Contemporary YA, you don’t have the same danger factor as you do in fantasies, so it’s much easier to include parents.

However, by not including parents in YA fiction, a huge part of teens lives are being excluded. Sure, there are teens with dead parents or with neglectful/absentee parents and this should absolutely be recognised, but for most teens, parents are a huge part of their lives, so it stands to reason that they would be a part of their stories. Yes it does make it easier if the parents are out of the way for the hero to have adventures, but at the same time, your dynamics with your parents when you are a teenager are probably the most interesting of your entire life. On the one hand, you love your parents but on the other hand, you’re dying for more independence. The dynamic is constantly changing and shifting and I think that far from pushing parents into the background, it’s a very interesting dynamic to explore in YA novels, the balance between wanting your parent’s advice/involvement in your life and wanting to find out who you are as a person and it would be nice to see that more (obviously if it’s right for the book).

And even if on a practical level, excluding parents seems appealing, because it makes it easier for kids to have adventures, having parents there gives the kid another obstacle because they have to save the world and get home in time to do their homework. This was one of the things I enjoyed most about the Skulduggery Pleasant series, Valkyrie’s parents are around, they would inevitably notice that she was gone, so she has to come up with a way of them not noticing that she’s not there when she’s off to save the world, this adds another layer of conflict within the story. So far from just being an annoyance that it is easier to get rid of, having the MC have present parents adds conflict to the MC’s life and a conflict that more teens can relate to than having to save the world!

You could also argue that parents are not relevant to the plot in a YA book, because it’s about the kids and not the parents but I would argue that parents are always relevant. They are an integral part of shaping who we are as people, who you become as a teenager is in no small part due to your parents and your upbringing. Seeing where our MC came from is yet another window into understanding who they are, by seeing how they interact with their parents you can tell a lot about what matters to them, where certain personality traits came from etc, far from being irrelevant, it could add another layer to an MC, understanding who their parents are. Whether they are absent, helicopter, dead, supportive etc, an MC’s parents will always be relevant to their character development because who their parents are will have helped shaped their character. In my WIP, my MC’s mother is dead and her father is very cold & distant, this has very much shaped who she is as a person, as her father’s distance has shaped her frosty and distrustful personality and her anger and fiery nature very much resembles her mother. Even if the parents aren’t physically present in a YA book, I think we should still be able to feel their presence through the character’s actions and personality, like in the Throne of Glass books, Celaena’s parents are dead, but we get shown, both through flashbacks and Celaena’s actions how they have shaped her. There needs to be a reason for missing parents. It can’t just be that you want your character to have adventures and so we’ll kill the parents because it’s easier that way. It needs to have shaped your character, changed them in some way, to help push the plot forward, otherwise what’s the point? Like oh, they’re dead or neglectful because I need them out the way. NO. Using this as a force for character growth? Yes, I am all here for that.

We can also understand a lot about character’s motivations by seeing who their parents are and this could help shape your character’s arc, for instance, if your character is very rebellious, it could be due to their overprotective parents. Sure, a dead or neglectful parent could also go a long way to explaining character motivations, but it has also been very overused, by having parents with an active involvement in their child’s life, it could be an interesting, different, angle on exploring character motivation.

It would be great if instead of seeing parents as an obstacle in YA fiction, they could be seen as an opportunity for deeper growth, deeper delving into character motivation, exploring different dynamics. Parents don’t need to be a noose around an MC’s neck, they Β can bring a different dynamic, different ideas and different perspectives and that’s not a bad thing, in fact it can be a very good thing.

I am not saying that all parents must be perfect, supportive, loving parents. Far from it. I want to read about supportive parents yes, that’s been my experience growing up, I love my parents, they have always been there for me and I’m very close to them, so naturally I like seeing that reflected in books, but that’s not everyone’s experiences. Equally, it’s not everyone’s experience that they have neglectful parents or dead parents. There are a myriad of different types of parents out there and I just think that we should be able to see this in YA books, parents should be allowed to be realistic characters as much as the teenagers are, and just like teenagers, there are a lot of different types of parents out there and it would be great to see that reflected in YA.

Basically, I just don’t want to see the archetypal dead or missing parent anymore. Parents aren’t archetypes anymore than teenagers are and just because they aren’t the main focus of YA books, doesn’t mean that they should be pushed aside. Parents have an important role in teens lives and I would just love to see that acknowledged more. I want to see parents who are as varied and interesting as their children, the MCs of the stories that I love so much. When parents are dead or absentee or neglectful, I want to see the impact that this has had on the teen and even when they’re not, I want to see how MCs have been shaped by their parents. Whoever our parents are, whatever they’re like, they will have an impact on us and I want to see this. I don’t want to see parents being written out of the narrative because they’re inconvenient to have around. If it’s inconvenient for your MC have their parents around, then explore this. Explore the conflict. It could make your story even more interesting, add a different dynamic. Just as we should explore the myriad of diverse, interesting, flawed, relatable teens, we should do the same with their parents. Because whether they’re around or not, parents are an important part of everyone’s narrative, and YA books should reflect this.

What do you think? Do you like present parents or absent ones? What should a parent’s role be in YA fiction? Who are your favourite fictional parents? Have you read any books where parents have an interesting role? Let me know in the comments!

I will have a new Jo Talks post up at some point in April, but I can’t say what I’ll be writing about as I haven’t worked it out! As always, if there’s anything you’d like to hear about from me, please let me know! In the meantime, the next time you’ll probably hear from me will be on Tuesday for my regularly scheduled TTT post, so stay tuned for that!

Once again, Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers in the UK!

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14 thoughts on “Jo Talks Books: On Parents In YA Fiction

  1. nevillegirl March 26, 2017 / 5:41 pm

    Ahhh, I always forget how early your Mother’s Day is compared to ours! In the US we celebrate it in May. 😊

    Anyway, I agree with everything you said her, but especially the bit about parents providing explanations for what motivates your character. That’s honestly SO important and probably one of the reasons I love reading about parents in YA, because familial relationships are such a huge part of most people’s lives and are sadly still unexplored in a lot of YA fiction.

    • iloveheartlandx March 26, 2017 / 7:55 pm

      Yeah it always confuses me when I see posts about Mother’s Day in May and then I remember that other countries have it later than ours!
      Thanks! Yes exactly. My parents are such a huge part of why I’m me and it just confuses me that YA doesn’t explore this more, especially since so much of it is about discovering who you are.

  2. Briana March 26, 2017 / 9:44 pm

    Yeah, I think it’s very telling that whenever there’s a Twitter chat and the question is to come up with great fictional mothers, everyone screams “Molly Weasley!” and then we sit around scratching our heads because we can’t think of anyone else.

    I agree that often in fantasy there needs to be some distance because, yeah, a responsible adult is not going to let a child march into danger and save the world on their own. But I would like to see more variety and see authors try to work parents in a bit more. I did kind of like one middle grade book where the parents left on a trip, let an aunt babysit, and called in every day to check on the kids. Aunt was mildly irresponsible, but the parents were not. They were just in a situation where they could not, for that week, monitor everything their kids did.

    • iloveheartlandx March 27, 2017 / 11:46 pm

      Ha ha yes that is very true! I have been in that situation myself before πŸ™‚ Yes, there obviously does have to be a level of distance, but that doesn’t mean it’s not possible to have parents around at all. I would like to see that too. Well that seems like a relatively good solution for the absentee parent problem!

  3. Aaliah March 27, 2017 / 9:16 am

    Good point. The whole “batman” childhood is becoming a very dull background story. too many times i think people are afraid that you can’t have a fantasy theme going in a YA novel with the parents still in the story. But in the end you’re building an entire society or community. Fitting the parent-child dynamics is still possible. Think harry potter. Parents were kept aware of all that was going on in their children’s lives, and often had input on the direction/loyalties of their kids. (Weasleys, longbottom, and other parental figures) vs. (blacks, malfoys). Even though, technically JKR did use the “batman” orphan theme, i think we witnessed many parental figure relationships, with their limitations as well as their effects.

    To summarize: writing parents well, with variety, can add a whole new layer of relations in a story, without ruining your MC’s plot.

    • iloveheartlandx March 27, 2017 / 11:44 pm

      Thanks! Yes, I’m get a little tired of it too. Exactly my point, you can fit in parent-child relationships and it can add to the story (great example with HP). I totally agree with that, well written parents can really add to a story.

  4. Emma March 27, 2017 / 9:31 pm

    I completely agree that there needs to be more parents in YA. I would actually love to see more parents involved in or supporting the child through whatever situation they are facing. A great example of this is Blue’s mother from The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater. She’s really supporting and nice and helpful, and an awesome part of the story. I know a lot of teens think that their parents are against them or not going to be there for them but only presenting that point of view is hardly going to help teens trust their parents.

    • iloveheartlandx March 27, 2017 / 11:41 pm

      Thanks, I’m glad you agree. I would like to see this too. OMG yes, I love Blue’s mum. That’s a great example of where a parent/child relationship really adds to a story. I didn’t even think of that but you’re totally right, we shouldn’t be presenting a view of parents being totally against teens when that’s probably the view a lot of them already have. We should be challenging that and showing that parents can be supportive and have their best interests at heart.

  5. SERIESous Book Reviews March 27, 2017 / 10:18 pm

    I really think it depends on the story but for the most part I agree that parents need to have more of a supporting role in YA. I get a little tired of the abusive/absent parent storyline because not everyone has those circumstances and I wish it was represented more in contemporary YA–especially the ones toted as “realistic”.

    I do like parent-child relationships in my novels. 99 Days comes to mind because the conflict between the mom and daughter really added to the story in a positive way. Same with Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda–I’m really loving the parent role in this story right now.

    • iloveheartlandx March 27, 2017 / 11:38 pm

      Yes obviously having present parents will work more for some stories than others but it shouldn’t be that they are always absent. Yes exactly! Like it’s so tiring having to read that all the time. I get that some people have these kinds of parents but the majority of people don’t and books should show this. Me too, especially when they add something positive. I will have to check out the books you mentioned πŸ™‚

      • SERIESous Book Reviews March 27, 2017 / 11:57 pm

        I think sometimes people forget about the “normal”. I’m all for showing diversity and having different family structures is a part of that, but you can’t forget about the normal either!

      • iloveheartlandx March 28, 2017 / 12:04 am

        Yeah I’d agree with you on that. Oh of course, me too, but I think showing the normal is a part of that as well.

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