I’d be interested to know what you think of this article from the New York Times Book Review. Julie Just, the children’s book editor of the Times, writes about parents and YA lit:
Afflicted by anomie, sitting down to another dismal meal or rushing out the door to a meeting, the hapless parents of Y.A. fiction are slightly ridiculous. They put in an appearance at the stove and behind the wheel of the car, but you can see right through them.
Just posits that the role of the parent has changed in YA lit–from absent (see The Outsiders or Rumble Fish) to horrible parent of the problem novel to, now, inert and two-dimensional. This is a “loss of stature” and a “lowering of stakes,” the parents might have their own problems, but these are “more muted and less interesting” than that of the teenagers. The parents float on the periphery, vaguely-troubled ghosts with control of the car keys.
Of course, the world of a teenager is a solipsistic one. The first person of YA lit, while realistic on the surface, creates a sort of expressionism where the only truth is what the narrator perceives, and these narrators are not prone to contemplating the inner depths of their parents’ psyches. The parents seems peripheral because they are. After all, the point of being a teenager is separating from your parents. (This has benefits for the parents as well–as my father once told me your child’s behavior as a teenager makes you suddenly look forward to sending her off to college. I’m sure he meant that in the nicest of all possible ways.)
Also, there are the dictates of writing stories that try engage with the contemporary world. You can’t have every character be an orphan, and problem novels are really fairy tales; if the parents aren’t going to be absent and they’re not going to be monsters, they need to be gotten out of the way somehow to make the book go.
At the same time, it’s a better book that gives its characters dimension. Parents can be peripheral without being flat-Laurie Halse Anderson, I think, is very good at this. In Melina Marchetta’s Saving Francesca, the mother refuses to get out of bed one morning. She’s as ineffectual and peripheral as it gets, yet you get a sense of some wholeness of pain there, and that sense makes for a richer book.
And the flat parent, too, has a purpose. In E. Lockhart’s The Boyfriend List, the parents are absurdly, hilariously flat–but that’s really the whole darned point.
What do you think?