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 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!