Saturday, November 6, 2010

Where the Heck are Mom and Dad? And a BOOK GIVE AWAY!

Read on to see how to win a set of Maggie Stiefvater's Wolves of Mercy Falls books: Shiver and Linger.

**Warning: Possibility of slight spoilers ahead! ***

So, you know those kids we love to read about? The middle graders and young adults snuggled in the pages of books about high school, mysteries, werewolves, vampires, or first love? I have a question: Where are their parents?

It seems to me, there is usually at least one parent present in the story somewhere, but they are rapidly shoved into the margin of the story. If they do play a role bigger than putting the occasional meal on the fictional table or asking some random question about homework as our hero walks through the house, it is often a role destined to cause strife for our hero…or even send them to a therapist’s couch in their later years. Are there any examples of loving parents in YA lit? There is probably a better chance to find some in the middle grade shelves, just by the nature of the younger reader. (Not, as of yet, ready to push the parental units away like their teen counterparts, I suppose.)

In the last few weeks, I read Maggie Stiefvater’s popular books, Shiver and Linger. In case you aren’t familiar, here’s the setup: Grace is in love with a wolf that frequents the woods behind her house. The wolf pack nearly carried her off as a light supper when she was small; however, instead of being afraid, she is fascinated and somewhat obsessed with them – especially the one with the yellow eyes. Enter yellow-eyed Sam, a musical, literary, homeschooled boy only appears in Grace’s town in the Summer. Because…(wait for it)…he’s a wolf during the winter. Ta da!! (Think Twilight, but with wolves instead of vegetarian vampires.) Romance and adventure ensue.

Sam’s parents: tried to kill him when he was very young. They couldn’t handle his early months as a werewolf – the switching back and forth between hairy beast and beloved little boy sent them over the edge. They decide they would rather he die than be possessed. The man who plays the adopted father role for Sam (Beck) is more often a canine than a human – which pretty much means he falls into the absentee father category.

Grace’s parents: Talk about absentee! They live with Grace and are still married, but between her artsy, flighty mother and her self-centered father…Grace is more of a roommate/housekeeper for them instead of a daughter. She comes and goes, and even manages quite easily to have Sam spend the night in her bedroom for weeks without her parents catching on. Very absentee. Although…very convenient for the story.

Beck and Grace’s parents breeze through an occasional scene, but their presence is more notable by either their absence, or—occasionally – by Grace or Sam mulling over how different their lives would be if the parents were present.

Are there any books for teens where the parents play a realistic role? Where they are involved, interested, present, caring, etc., etc.? (In other words, the kind of parent I, for one, hope to be as my kids grow up.) Do teens not want to see solid parents even for their fictional “friends”? Or is this part of the escapism of YA lit? Is this one way kids remove themselves from the reality of their own busy lives – sinking into a good story that takes them away…even from whatever parents they have in real life? To imagine a life where parents aren’t a big part of the picture at all? To dream about life without them or start thinking through how they will make decisions and move through life if Mom and Dad aren’t there to hold them up?

Lest you think I only considered Stiefvater’s characters, here is a quick rundown of the state of parenting on some other YA books:

Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta: Mom abandons Taylor.
Gone by Michael Grant: All parents disappear instantly in a cataclysmic event.
It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini: Craig’s mom is occasionally present, in a sort of enabling way.
The Maze Runner by James Dashner: Like Gone, the kids are trapped together – without adults -- in a dystopian world.
Uglies by Scott Westerfeld: The post-apocalyptic setting removes kids from their parents’ homes at a young age, when they are housed in dorms together and exist with very little exposure to their families.

See what I mean? Parents not there – either literally removed from the scene or more subtly absent from the hero’s life. Heck, even Percy Jackson’s mom sends him away to live at Camp Half Blood for months at a time!

Are there examples of teen lit where the parents are present and provide? I just scanned my bookshelf again, and not a single title jumped out at me. So perhaps this is just one of those elements of lit for this age group. Or maybe…someone should write good parents into the genre…

In honor of parents in teen literature, Carpe Keyboard will give away a copy of Shiver and the sequel, Linger, to one of you! Just leave a comment below or mention Carpe Keyboard on your Facebook page/Twitter/other social network (and tell me about it in a comment) and I’ll put your name in the drawing for the set of Maggie Stiefvater’s great stories! I’ll draw the lucky winner on Saturday, November 13.


  1. Shiver and Linger sound very interesting, probably due to the fact that I'm a big Twilight fan. I'd love to read them, and to win them would be even sweeter. So count me in!

  2. Great observations about the lack of parents in kids literature--you've inspired me to go back to my "recently read" list and see how they stand on the parent issue...

    And would love to be included in your book drawing :-)

  3. Great post! There was actually an interesting essay in Publisher's Weekly on the ol' dead dad syndrome - calling it "lazy writing":
    Then a rebuttal in HuffPo soon after:
    It's this argument I guess that kids work out anxieties in literature, or that literary parents inhibit kids' ability to be the navigators of their own destinies. But I'm with you. I think it's hard to write parents and I really enjoy when people do it well. I thought John Green did a great job in "Looking for Alaska" and his other novels to portray loving, supportive parents who still were 3-D, flawed characters...
    Oh, and sign me up for your drawing! Have read neither! (I'll FB post you too!)

  4. Most of my characters are orphans or somehow severed from parents. Sadly, I think teens know that soon they will be navigating the world by themselves, and they need to read about other teens doing so without direction and (usually) ending up OK.

  5. I think it's great you are giving these books out and in it's own way it's encouraging others to read. Though, can't say I can read the whole blog because of spoilers, even if I am a big fan of them sometimes xD

    Anyways, I didn't get to say this before I left, but thanks for stopping by and presenting at my school. I was actually pretty excited about it. Even though I know most people there weren't because everyone either acts falsely enthusiastic or doesn't even try and decides to talk to a friend.

    I have wanted to be a writer for awhile and everyone tells me I'm a good writer. You said to try and branch out and show other people your writings, well I post mine on this art site I get on and it's really a confidence boost to hear others opinions and pointers.

    And another thing. Have you ever heard of Role Playing? I do it alot and I think it is what helps me write. If you don't know, it's just like you are acting like a character from a book, movie, game, etc. and another person is a character from that same thing, and you post writings back and forth as your character. I went from having posts that were about 5 words when I was 11, to having up to 700 words per post now :)

    Ah anyways thanks again and I hope to hear more from you and your blogging soon x)

  6. Nice way to point that out. I think it is awesome that you are giving away the books. I would really like them. I love to read but i need to enhance my skills. I cant read fast its just not my thing. I need to learn to read fast because if it makes me feel weird when I am sitting there still reading when everyone else is done. I love to write stories i think they're are so fun. I also like to draw thats my favorite thing to do.