Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Sunday Symposium: Family Values

Sunday, September 30, 2012 with 4 comments

The Sunday Symposium is a weekly feature in which I'll be discussing various bookish topics and asking for your commentary, as well.  This week's topic is the presence of familial relationships in young adult novels...or lack thereof.

I'd like to assume that everyone has a great home life and that parents are present and accounted for...and more.  But let's face it, that's not a very realistic outlook.  Although I had a great childhood, it was anything but perfect.  My parents were over-bearing and supremely strict and this led to the twitchy, quiet mouse of a girl you see today.  (Gawd, I hope they aren't reading this.  :P)  But it could have been the other extreme, and they could have been emotionally unavailable or flat-out not around.

I've read a ton of YA novels, and family dynamics are presented in both manners, sometimes within the course of the same book.  I don't mind reading either instance, but it really chafes me when it seems that the parents are made to be absent simply to further the plot.  I get it; it's hard to get away with some of the antics in these stories with ever-present parental figures.  But trust me, it IS possible.  *insert sly grin*

My own family situation is proof of that.  I was everything my parents wanted and expected me to be:  I excelled in school, I helped out around the house, and I didn't get into trouble.  Seriously...I was only ever written up once in junior high and it was for such a lame reason -- I was in the cafeteria restroom before school in the morning, which wasn't allowed.  My mom wanted to fight the write-up, but it was the only time I'd ever gotten into trouble, and it made me feel kind of dangerous, so I wanted it to stay on my record.  Lame, I know.  I didn't get to experience that feeling again until my senior year of school.  I found out that I was going to be Salutatorian, not Valedictorian, due to a mere four thousandths of a point.  Color me devastated...and engraged.  I went a little crazy for awhile.  Attending parties every weekend and all but giving up on school.  I was even dating, which my parents did not allow yet.  (I told you, they were VERY strict.)

But I digress.  My point is, even with domineering parents, a teenager can get away with a lot.  It's not necessary to write them into a bad situation just so that they can.  I understand that sometimes the lack of parental figures is a result of a larger story, especially in post-apocalyptic and fantasy novels, but I know that it can work in a contemporary story, too, if it's handled well and doesn't feel forced.

Still, if a book's targeted audience is young adults, I'd like to see some semblance of a happy home life for the main characters, at least where applicable.  If we want to raise the youth of today to grow into wholesome, well-balanced individuals, shouldn't we show them examples of those?  I'm not saying every book is going to have a happy ending or even that the majority of the storyline should be light-hearted and fun because where's the honesty in that?  No, all I'm asking is that authors not include a bad home life and then give the character an unrealistic happily-ever-after.  If they come from a bad family situation, show them trying to overcome it and document their struggles and how it affects them.  Kids should be able to read and identify with characters.

Sigh.  This turned into a ramble and I'm not even sure I made the point I was trying to make.  I'd still like to hear your thoughts on family dynamics in young adult novels.  I'm of the mind that they should be realistically portrayed, but I can see how the more over-the-top types would be entertaining.  What say you?


  1. Great points. That topic came up on one of the ATBF panels and most of the Thriller Writers had to create an instance when the adults were simply out of pocket.

    Why can't there be more examples of functional families?

  2. EXACTLY! What bothers me (and this is more prevalent in MG) is when adults are present in the story but they're completely useless and stupid. It doesn't make sense that a kid or teenager should be able to outperform every single adult.

  3. I agree! There are very few book where the parents seem like a great parent that is trying their best with their kid. I had great parents but there were a lot of things I did that they still are not aware of after now being 31.

  4. I don't mind the bad parents in YA books thing, because I think that that dynamic needs to be explored in teen books. But I agree that it should work toward the purpose of the story rather than just being a convenient plot device. One example of what I think accomplishes that is a juxtaposition of a bad home vs a good home, so that the differences are made very clear. Maybe the protag has a bad home life but it is shown in comparison to his/her best friend's family who provides an example of a loving home situation. Or maybe the kid has crap parents but has another relative that he/she can rely on for love, support, and discipline, etc. As long as it is shown that the bad home situation is a bad one, then I think it could be helpful rather than harmful.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...