YA Lit Really Screws Over Parents

In YA literature, parents rarely get a lot of appreciation, especially if they're the protagonists'. In most cases, at least one of the MC's parents are:

  1. dead; or
  2. missing; or
  3. otherwise out of the picture

I thought about adding "incompetent", but that sort of stretching it. Let's focus on the "dead/missing" aspect for now.

My point is...

Many authors like to keep the parents out of the way. A lot of the time, especially in dystopian stories, that involves offing at least one of them. Look at the Big Three of YA. Harry Potter is an orphan, Bella's parents are divorced, and Katniss' father died in a mine collapse.

Now, there's nothing inherently wrong about not having both parents in the picture, with the MC interacting with them several times throughout the story, but it's quite common.

It makes sense. A commonly accepted rule of fiction is the conversation of details. If a character is not needed, usually they're put out of the picture. That's why it seems like a lot of YA MCs are also a only child. There's exceptions like Katniss and The Iron King's Meghan, but in those cases, the sibling is plot important.

I'm not sure about how many pets are around, but How NOT to Write a Novel is outright brutal on pets, and I've included at least one blog post on how pets are distracting in my Weekly Round-ups.

Factor in the fact that YA MCs rarely are considered popular or have a lot of friends...


Why is it?

I think it's a matter of freedom. If a MC lives with both parents, multiple siblings and pets, and belong to a large web of friends, it's going to be harder for them to go off and fight the monsters/the government/whatever.

I'll like to see a book where all of the above is in place, since more stakes=more conflict, but really, it's easier to cut back on all the people that hold the protagonist back.

YA seems to have this problem because Adult books often don't have to deal with the problem of parents and such. You can go an entire book without mentioning the parents once, because the default presumption is that the MC no longer lives with them, and they're not really important to the plot. 

If you go an entire YA book without mentioning the parents once, 99.9% of the time, it's a headscratcher, so the author must address the issue. A lot of the time, killing one or both parents is the route, or divorcing them and have one move across the country, or having one leave the family, and so on.

It's not inherently lazy. Many authors manage the missing/dead parents well, weaving it into the MC's characterization, or the plot.

But hey, I think we can have more books where the MC lives with both parents, and the parents aren't out of the picture for most of the book.

In cases where both parents are there.

There's a whole variety of parents in YA. There are apathetic ones, embarrassingly caring ones, bumbling ones, abusive ones...and then there are the competent ones.

The competent parents are the rarest kinds of parents in YA. Few authors have their MC's parents get tangled into the plot and actually help (or act as antagonists) the protagonist. But there are examples out there.

I've reviewed Priscilla the Great, where the mother has superpowers and the father got skills, and they're central characters. The book might be MG, but I think it can also be considered YA.

As I'm writing this post, I'm reading The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. Hazel's parents have a good hand in the story, and they have a good homelife. Although the MC's parents are out of the picture in An Abundance of Katherines and Looking for Alaska, they're present and there for the MC in Will Grayson, Will Grayson.

(Will Grayson, Will Grayson really highlights how John handles his MC's parents compared to the rest of YA. John's Will Grayson has both his parents with him, while David Levithan's Will Grayson has a missing father. In one of Levithan's other books, Every Day, the protagonist never even had parents.)

There are more examples out there, but they exist. They're just not the norm.

YOUR TURN: What are you thoughts on parents in YA?