Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Where Are Her Parents? (or Make Her Behave Creatively)

Tip of the Day: Check out kidlit author Kate Messner's blog for a photo recap of the amazing Children's Book Festival held this past Saturday in Rochester, NY!

I've been reading a lot of middle-grade novels lately, and something I've noticed that I've loved in them -- especially compared to recent YA novels -- is the Parent Involvement with the main characters.

For example, in THE AVIARY, even though Clara's father is missing, her mother notices when Clara sneaks around and she calls her out on it. The author could have easily let Clara get away with her secret curtain signal to her new friend, for example, and made Clara's mother be completely oblivious. But in reality most good parents, like Clara's mother, are *not* oblivious and I appreciate the way this was portrayed. It also ups the creativity that Clara -- and the author -- need to have in order for Clara to get what she wants.

In the middle-grade novel SPRINKLES AND SECRETS, Sophie lies to her best friend at one point, but her mom quickly finds out about the lie and confronts Sophie, telling her that she needs to correct her behavior. Again, life would've been a lot easier for Sophie if she was able to keep her secrets and lies to herself, but because her mom is an attentive parent, she corrects Sophie's behavior. Sophie is forced to deal with the truth and reality because it's the right thing to do, which adds more tension and conflict in the book.

Meanwhile, I'm 1/3 of the way through a YA novel that takes place in a boarding school. The MC's parents live a few hours away and when a serial killer leaves his victims in the vacinity of the boarding school, the MC's parents are casually mentioned as asking her to temporarily move back with them. The MC refuses and her parents apparently drop it, though they are said to call her frequently.

Now don't get me wrong; I am really enjoying this book. But it seems that the potential conflict that caring parents can add to a plot is abandoned. Overall I have seen this omitted more easily in YA novels; the parents just need to be removed from the MC's life/physical location so "things can happen." When the parents are cast as good parents, though, it is less believable and it lets the MC -- and author -- more easily find "solutions" to her problems that won't be checked by an adult. I find that this "absent parents" tactic only truly works in instances where the parents haven't been made out to be "good" parents to begin with.

I love how in MG novels, attentive parents can be good for the main characters' morals and family life, but bad for their ability to sneak around and behave "badly" or in a way that a good parent would not approve of. I love that parents are obstacles for kids in MG novels that they need to work on the up-and-up to get what they want.

What are your takes on parental involvement in YA and MG fiction?

Deena, Miss Subbing for Pubbing


Emily Marshall said...

I actually like the lake of parents in most YA's (as do teens, I'm sure), which is why the parents are often missing I think (or atleast not focused on nearly as much as in MG). When I wrote my MG novel, I did have to concentrate on adding the parents more. It was hard, because I wanted her to be more independent, but had to somehow work in how she could be out by herself, given her age. It makes it a challenge to work in those pesky parents :)

Emily Marshall said...

Ha...meant lack not lake (that's funny).

Kate Fall said...

I love Michael Buckley's Grimm Sisters books. When their parents go missing, they think they'll be able to find them on their own, but then Grandma steps in and puts an end to that. You get both the tension of missing parents and the inability for the MC to do as she pleases. I'm reading my son Deltora Quest, and it's similar. Dad's in jail, but Dad's best friend will not let the main character go off and do anything he wants. Even without parents, having 13 year olds wander around without constraints defies suspension of belief. And I've put down a few books about NYC club hopping 16 year olds for the same reason. I couldn't buy into the belief this would happen.

DeenaML said...

Em -- I agree that I *like* missing YA parents so things can happen the way we want them to, but the *reason* the parents are MIA has to be BELIEVABLE, not just so it feels like a convenience for the MC to go on their quest.

Kate -- Yes, I also think MG readers will not buy it if a kid does a whole bunch of stuff with no parent involvement. I know when I read books as a kid, I'd be like, Yeah right, my parents would NEVER let me do that!

The key -- which is HARD for writers -- is to have enough parent involvement to be realistic, and also find CREATIVE ways (not easy ways) for the kid MCs to be able to do what they need to do.

Michelle Julian said...

Great post! I am dealing with parental presence in my ms right now. Thanks for your insight.

DeenaML said...

Michelle, I am also dealing with this in my YA wip. One MC has an excuse for where she is all night, but I need to come up with one for the other. Bc even though he's 17, his Mom wouldn't just let him disappear for 12 hours without worrying about him!