Today I am thrilled to have Jamie Adams here to continue the discussion of Parents in YA and NA books. You may remember my post on the subject last month. Jamie runs the wonderful blog To Taste Life Twice. I met her through Twitter (@Jamie_Adams22), and since then we’ve discussed school, books, and writing. We have also been the occasional writing-sprint buddies along with a few fabulous others. I truly appreciated reading Jamie’s take on this subject, so without further ado, take it away Jamie!
When I was a kid, my family was an essential piece of my existence. I was nine when my baby sister was born prematurely, an event that brought me face to face with the reality of human experience and the possibility of death. When I was fifteen, I learned to drive through turtle-speed parking lot sessions with my mom and death-defying highway madness with my dad. I cut my teeth on the muffled shrieks and not muffled commentary from the backseat. When I was seventeen, I took over as head of the household for two months while my parents went overseas to adopt some of my siblings.
My family still plays an essential role in my life. I live quite a distance from them now, but still receive a barrage of texts and phone calls – this is what happens when there are seven people reporting various tidbits of news and drama. So, as a reader, when I dive into a book, I am constantly confronted by the fact that no one’s family looks like mine.
I would say the large majority of the families I have encountered on the pages of a book are broken. Harry Potter is an orphan. Katniss has no dad. Most parents, if they’re mentioned at all, are distant, disengaged, and disinterested. Is it true that in the real world there are so few intact, happy families that they aren’t worth mentioning in today’s literature?
I’m sure there are examples of whole families that function well for the most part, but they are rare and becoming moreso all the time. As a writer, I too have found that the families in my books tend to be single-parent, usually with one or two siblings maximum, and if there are two parents they are distant and uninvolved.
I recognize that family is quite a different word than what it once was. Families come in all shapes and sizes, sometimes blood relatives and other times not, single parents and unmarried parents and parents too burdened by their own trouble to worry overmuch about their children. But I know, too, that there are families with parents who are married and love each other, whether that marriage is their first or second or third, and where that mom and dad are involved in their children’s lives, for better or worse. And that’s what I don’t see reflected in books, and that’s what bothers me.
The point of story, in many ways, is to reflect the truths of our lives. When I can’t find people that look like me and experience the world the way I do, it sometimes makes me feel as though my experience is not pertinent, that I am somehow discounted or less because I am foreign, my experiences completely alien from everyone else. And unfortunately, even as a writer, I haven’t found the answer to that dilemma.
You might think that, if I feel this way about families and parents in particular, I would set out and write a book that reflects that desire. Not so, my friends, not so. I have started countless books featuring large, boisterous families with lovingly intrusive parents and siblings who love and fight the way mine do. And I have yet to even finish one, let alone feel it was ready to pursue publication.
I recognize the issues. Parents who are too protective squash the adventure. Parents are wiser, and if kids in books go to them with their questions and concerns, they won’t make the mistakes that lead to stories. People who make good choices to begin with may not have the same sort of adventures as those who learn things the hard way – after all, it’s conflict that drives a story. Not to mention, including parents and siblings and grandparents and cousins requires the author to master and orchestrate a massive cast, many of whom may be only fleetingly relevant to the central tale.
And so we stand, caught in a quandary. Whether there is one parent or two, married or unmarried, does the need for story demand they be passive observers or distant, vaguely antagonistic beings set well apart from the events depicted on the page? How does the truth of a young person, who wants desperately to be an individual, unique and distinct, and yet is willing at times to seek the counsel of their parents, however reluctantly, fit into the current culture of our literature?
I believe that an essential piece of the coming of age story is the identification of the self as an individual, but to be individual means to recognize yourself apart from an other – and for many of us, the first time we recognized ourselves as a self was in opposition, or in relation, to a parental figure. If we can’t find a way to incorporate this deep journey, from part of a unit to a single entity, into our stories as we share them via the written word, it may be that in the end we miss one of the most poignant adventures of the human experience.
Thank you so much Jamie!
I would love to hear your thoughts on the topic of Parents in YA and NA books, and I’m sure Jamie would too, so please feel free to leave a comment.
Have something longer than a usual comment? Are you a YA/NA author or blogger interested in writing a guest post on this topic? Let me know!