My buddy Stephanie, better known as Maybe Genius created an interesting topic on the Bransforums recently. She called the thread something only slightly different from the title of my post, but I have no qualms about ripping her off since I will be linking heavily to her blog and basically announcing how awesome and insightful she is.
She actually covered the topic on her blog in a great post before she started the thread on the forums, and apparently it had been being kicked around the blogoshpere a lot that week. In the thread intro she advised curious readers to check here and here (those are her link suggestions, not mine).
To read the entire thread on Nathan Bransford's forums please visit here. There are several interesting comments or replies to Stephanie's topic but I will just share two of them here. My own:
This whole topic really hits home for me. There are several reasons for this:
- First, I write YA. The MC in my only novel has a dead mom and a dad in prison.
- Second, I'm a father. I'm pretty lucky that my 14 year old daughter still accepts me but there will be a time soon when she simply has to separate herself from mom and dad if she ever hopes to obtain knowledge of self.
- Third my own mom died when I was 11 years old.
- Fourth my dad was a drunk who I didn't see for 6 years when I was a teenager.
I think that the coming of age and expression of independence that is reached by a young person growing into themselves is the key at the heart of most YA archetypal tales. Think Luke Skywalker, Frodo Baggins and even Eragon.
Does having even one supportive and half way normal parent ruin the drama of such an experience automatically? No, but it is much harder to convey this drastic change in a way that resonates with a stupid parent in the way.
The truth is my own teen years were full of turmoil. I won't go into detail but I did grow up pretty fast. It would actually make a pretty good story.
Are there successful people who grew a lot and whose parents supported them maturely all the way? Sure. Look at a star like Taylor Swift for an example. The problem is, these don't make very entertaining stories. Sure they are touching in a Biography but those stories are about the person's success, or great failure, not about their relationship with their parents. Missing or dysfunctional parents make growing for the kid much harder, and conflict equals drama, which equals entertainment.
Would I like to see variety in YA? Sure. Do I expect a lot of healthy supportive parents to start showing up in novels soon? Hell no. Though it would be nice to see more parents like Curt's dad in Glee.
Feel free to disagree with me, I'd love to hear more thoughts on this.
Nathan himself also shared a reply:
This is such a great thread. I don't have anything too insightful to add to what has been said, but I too have written an absent parent into JACOB WONDERBAR. I come from a stable family with both parents and so it's not based on anything from my real life. It's more of a choice driven, I think, from the fact that when I was young I loved books about kids who were on their own. MY SIDE OF THE MOUNTAIN, HATCHET, ISLAND OF THE BLUE DOLPHINS... you name it. And just about everyone in Roald Dahl's books (except for Charlie) had rotten or dead parents and he was my favorite writer growing up.
I think middle grade especially is a time when you're starting to become conscious of growing up and becoming independent of your parents and genuinely admiring adults who are not your parents, and so an absent parent or parents and surrogate adults is an externalization of that feeling of nascent independence. Just my own theory anyway.
I don't have a whole lot more to add today but I am curious to hear what you guys think. Even those of you who don't write YA or MG books, surely you must have read these kind of stories at one point. Can you think of any examples that go against the grain? Do you have any other insights as to why things are this way?
Please let us know in the comments.