Tuesday Truth: The Parent Trap

The usual disclaimer:  No books are mentioned by name.  If you think I’m talking about you, or your book, you are wrong.  Situations are exaggerated for the sake of the point.

(Yes, I know it’s Wednesday.  This post didn’t spring to mind until late last night.  There will still be a short story posted sometime this afternoon).

Tonight, I went to see My Soul to Take (long story short: interesting ideas, terrible execution and cringing dialogue).  And one of the things that bothered me the most (and immediately made me think of some YA examples) were the way the parents were portrayed in certain scenes.  My reaction was somewhere between me saying, “Really?  Really?!?!”  and the Sassy Gay Friend.  “Look at yourself.  Look at the choices you’re making.”  Somewhere in the middle.  That was me.

I’m sure most of us can think of an example of a YA novel where the parents are THERE but they don’t do anything (basically they pay the bills, provide lunch money, and nothing else), or they play the role of village idiot.  I think this is lame, and sometimes I think it’s only done because it made the story easier to write. Parents who are in their kids lives might notice if they start staying out all night, or come home drenched in demon blood.  But one of the most fascinating scenes from the early seasons of Buffy was her confrontation with her mother about what her life was all about.  And I think in some cases, that’s lacking a lot of times.

I recently put down a book because in the first ten pages, it introduced us to several horrible “adult” stereotypes.  I hesitate to even call them caricatures, because they were more flat and unbelievable than that.  For a minute, I almost wanted to write to the author and ask if they’d ever met anyone who was even remotely that cliche.  (But I held back – discretion being the better part of valor after all).

Adults in YA (more accurately urban fantasy) fall into a troublesome area: part of the inherent concept in supernatural YA is “teens with powers” or “teens that are special.”  And having a strong adult influence limits, restrains, or potentially hobbles that conceit.  And I think the end result is that it is EASIER (or at least more convenient) to have the Ignorant Parent.  Or the Parent Who Is Always Too Busy To Notice Anything.   Or the Invisible Parent.  Or the Parent Who Only Appears To Ruin Their Child’s Life.   Or the Dead Parents.

Notice I’m not saying DON’T  kill the parents.  Dead parents are another example of a  horse of a different (rotting) color.  If it works for your story, it works for your story.  But just like everything else, try and make it COUNT.

My point with all this is that I think FORCING the parent to be absent in some way, whether they’re “too busy with work” or they’re “in a drunken stupor” (you can’t see me right now, but I’m totally making air quotes, I swear), it’s limiting.  Most families are screwed up in some way.  We’ve all got skeletons in our closets.  So why don’t we see more of that?  Why so many orphans?   Why take the easy way out and make the character an orphan?

And just for the reference, the number of times I resisted making some sort of Lindsay Lohan joke (see the title of this post if you don’t understand why): 6.

Caveat:  I write this post, having totally written a book where the main characters are orphans.  In my defense, it was a kind of plot specific situation – the parents had to die.  Remember Party of Five?  Kids raising themselves?  That was the idea.

Caveat #2: And I’ve also written about dead parents and evil parents and parents who refuse to validate for parking.  I’m working on it, too!

4 thoughts on “Tuesday Truth: The Parent Trap

  1. I’ve heard this discussed before and I always blush a little in shame. My first urban fantasy, my MC was being raised by an “aunt” – Mommy was gone and Daddy had disappeared before she was born. BUT, daddy disappearing is a huge plot thingy as she has to find him…but I could probably have had mom around more. And my current book, the girl is in a boarding school 😀 Hmmm, and my last book the parents were dead (but again, sort of a Party of Five, the 3 sisters have to fend for themselves which is why they do what they do).

    I think this tendency is making me want to write a book where the parents are totally normal and up front and center 😀

  2. This always frustrates me too! In the YA fantasy I wrote the MC’s parents are pretty normal 🙂 I tried to let them impact the story without taking over–it is harder than cutting them out entirely (she can’t just stay out all night without getting in trouble!), but I really like that she’s got a more or less healthy relationship with her family.

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