Lisa’s Tuesday Perspective: Conveniently Absent Parents

You know what I’m talking about.  The main character’s parents just happen to be dead or workaholics or obsequiously neglectful or something like that.  I can never decide if I like this trend or not.  On the one hand, it can instantly up the angst factor up the wazoo, and besides, the YA is all about characters coming into their own, which may be harder to believe if they have perfect, supportive parents behind their every move.

On the other hand, though… most kids do have parents.  And really, most parents don’t suck.  The believability of the absent parents goes down a pinch when it happens in every single novel.  I’ve been reading a lot of books where parents just died in car wrecks a few weeks before the narration starts, and it’s starting to feel a little overwhelming.  Are there that many parental car crashes, really?

Then again, I’ve enjoyed some absent parents a lot.  In Jaclyn Moriarty’s Feeling Sorry for Celia (which is an epistolary novel, where everything is told in the form of letters or notes), the main character’s mother is insanely busy, and their entire form of communication is through post-it notes left on the front of the refrigerator.  That I found entirely clever.  Then again, I find just about everything about Jaclyn Moriarty’s books clever.  If you ever want to surprise yourself by how a story can be told, take a look at her books.

On the other other hand… parents really are difficult to involve sometimes.  In darker YA Fantasy, it can be difficult to believe that a good parent can’t sense a little bit of the danger surrounding their teen without trying to intervene in some way.  Even Charlie tries to protect Bella a bit in Twilight, and let’s face it—Charlie’s clueless.  He doesn’t come close to the kind of protective stance a normal dad with a teenage daughter being courted by a questionable someone might be, though.  At least, in my opinion.

So what is it that keeps parents out of YA?  Is it because authors decide their teenage characters are mature enough to take care of themselves?  Because they decide their characters don’t think about or interact with their parents much?   Because they feel like parents just slow things down?  Or is it because authors just don’t know how to handle writing believable parents?  I know that I’ve had difficulty with it myself, but at the same time, I really enjoy the challenge of making believable family units, and making my characters that much more believable.

What do you think?

Sorry for the late-night posts of late, folks!


About Lisa Asanuma

Lisa is a professional freelance writer and editor, along with a bookbinder and knitting obsessee. Lisa has a passion for YA literature (inside her passion for literature in general) and is currently working on her first novel. View all posts by Lisa Asanuma

2 responses to “Lisa’s Tuesday Perspective: Conveniently Absent Parents

  • Joane

    I think one of the reasons of absentee parents in YA novels is the age they are aimed at. If I think about myself at that age, I guess 11-14 or 15. I loved my family but, my friends were my focus. it’s a natural time to pull away from parents/family and gravitate towards friends (this insight comes from many years of early childhood education and I’m a parent myself – of adult children and teens). It’s probably somewhat appealing to young adults to read something in which parents and family are not the focus and find outside sources of support. I don’t really mind absentee parents in novels but, I’m finding in some YA TV shows the parents are total idiots that never should have had kids in the first place.

    • Lisa

      Yeah, I have a similar issue. I don’t mind absentee parents as much as the ones that clearly don’t reflect any sort of parental… anything. And I do think that’s a large part of it. I also think a large part of it is that the people writing YA books tend to not have had parental influences in their own lives for some time. Maybe. 😉

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