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!