Monday, January 21, 2013
The Case of the Missing Parents...
It's annoying. I'm annoyed.
I picked up another YA book today, only to find that, naturally, the parents are missing.
In YA fiction, and in MG fiction, too often the parents are AWOL. And I understand why. It's a plot device. You can’t go off and have dangerous adventures if your dad has set your curfew for 8 pm, or if your mum is vetting all your friends. Because in real life, that’s what parents do. In fiction, it just makes them get in the way.
This is why Harry Potter is an orphan, right? And why a boarding school is a perfect setting. Because there are no parents around to worry about what the kids are up to.
Tracking down an evil criminal mastermind, like the Famous Five? Absolutely not. Go and do your homework instead, and your parents will phone the police and have them look into it.
Looking for the courage to stand up and be a hero? Okay, but first you have to clean your room and take the rubbish out, and don’t forget to be home in time for dinner.
And this is where a lot of YA fiction falls down for me. Because however much teenagers try to live in a bubble with just their friends for company, that’s not the real world. There is a balance between realism and blatant parental neglect, and too often YA leans toward neglect.
And I think this is where books like Twilight actually got something right: divorced parents — a ditzy self-absorbed mother that Bella needs to get away from, and a father who works extended hours of shift work. So okay, in that situation I can buy that Bella can look after herself, and is generally unsupervised. It’s just the rest of the Twilight I have issues with.
Personally, I think this is why dystopia and spec fic work so well for YA. It means we get to throw the usual rules away. In a post-apocalyptic new world, when you’re scavenging for every bite to eat, the kids have to grow up quickly. That whole idea of the sanctity and innocence of childhood, after all, only dates back to the Victorian era, and it’s a very Middle Class idea. Because meanwhile, kids were working themselves to death in factories or mineshafts.
I understand why parents are so often missing in YA fiction — the narrative demands it. But please, give me a reason apart from negligent parenting.
(Except, of course, if you intend your character’s parents to be negligent instead of just oblivious. And in that case, show me the consequences. Because there are always consequences.)
What tropes in fiction are starting to annoy you?