Jen Meyers Official Author Site

Why Parents are MIA in YA

anywhere BN KoboI’m working on the outline for my next book, figuring out the backstory for my main characters as I create the present-time story, trying to decide what happened to their parents…who are absent.

No big surprise there, right? Parents are almost always absent (in some way) in YA books. (And MG, too, for that matter.)

And this got me thinking, in part because I’ve seen reviewers lament the lack of good, responsible parents in YA literature. And I totally understand this, from a parenting point of view. Yes, I’d like my kids to read stories about characters who go to their parents for advice, who confide in their parents, who have a close bond because I want that with my kids.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t make for good entertainment, does it? It’s not interesting.

I have fabulous parents and had a great childhood. The story of my coming-of-age would be One Giant Snore Fest because there was nothing to overcome. Yes, I’ve had tragedy very recently in my life which makes my story more interesting from a plot point of view (though I could have totally done without the “interesting” twist, you know, Universe?), but there will be no movie-of-the week made of my childhood, I can guarantee.

You know what does make a good story? Strife, struggle, growth. Characters figuring things out for themselves, finding their own voices, their own power…finding themselves.

You know what doesn’t make a good story? Loving parents guiding their kids’ fairly seamlessly through life.

Think about this for a moment: What if Lily and James Potter had lived? Or what if the Dursley’s had been lovely, warm people caring for Harry as if he were their own son? There’s a very good reason Harry was the main character of the series rather than Ron or Hermione.

Even Disney knows this. Disney films are rife with kids who’ve been abandoned by their parents in some way—ignored (Cinderella), orphaned (Aladdin; sometimes the parent is even killed right in front of the child’s eyes, hello Lion King and Bambi) (also, can you BELIEVE these movies were made for young children?), or on their own for some other reason, often of their own doing (The Little Mermaid, Finding Nemo, Mulan, Peter Pan).

It’s no different for adult books—there’s no benevolent mentor guiding characters through their lives to keep them from making mistakes or out of harm’s way. And why should there be? Great stories for every age have this in common–they’re about characters who go beyond what they think they can do, who take chances, who are stronger/smarter/more capable than they believed themselves to be, who make mistakes and learn from them. And this can only happen if characters are doing things on their own, not with the warm and supportive advice/help of  parents (or parent-like figures).

So this absence of parents is necessary in the make-believe world. It allows young protagonists to truly be the heroes of their own stories, letting them rise to the occasion as we hoped/knew they would (even if we didn’t know how). Which is what all good stories are made of, right?



2 thoughts on “Why Parents are MIA in YA

  1. kindlemom1

    I couldn’t agree more on both aspects as a parent and as a reader.

    Growth is a must and sadly, if there is someone (a caring loving parent) to lead them the whole way through, that growth doesn’t always happen and it really is crucial to a good story. Plus, how could half the things happen and unfold if a parent was right there with them. Meeting badies in the forest?Not going to happen! Going into that haunted house with friends? Not going to happen with your mother right there telling you not to be an idiot and to turn around and leave! LOL!

  2. Stephanie Scott

    You make some great points! Have you seen any of the chats going around on twitter on agent wish lists and reader wish lists? (I forget the hashtag). The reader ones were interesting because some of them were things like “YA books where the parents aren’t messed up” or “a YA couple who are together at the start of the book and don’t hate each other.” Hmm… yes it’s nice to have some stability but makes for a boring story! I think the relationship one stems from an oversaturation of love triangles. Though again,this provides plenty of conflict! And while not the norm for the everyday teen, are special abilities or saving the world from a tyrannical government? LOL

    Sara Zarr is really good at working in family complications where the parents are present but add to the conflict in the story.

    I did pick up some good bits from those twitter feeds, mainly to create complex characters that aren’t as expected; simple things like protagonists who wear glasses, who maybe suck at something like art rather than being hyper talented, things that can ground the reader in the character. Though she’s probably going to have some trouble at home, tool :)