Friday, July 05, 2013

Book Girls Don’t Cry: Where Are All the Parents?

Posted by

Inspired by Book Buzzers, Book Girls Don’t Cry is a weekly feature where we each discuss/vent/advise on the chosen weekly bookish topic. Don’t miss Jenni on Mondays, and Amy on Saturdays:

So Many Orphans!

Seriously? Where are the parents in YA novels? I have noticed a common theme where the characters are either orphans, live away from home (like in a private school dorm or with an uncle), have parents who are always at work or otherwise clueless/uninvolved in the book at all, or gone on vacation for the duration of the story. I know that these “excuses” are things that can happen. A lot of parents are uninvolved, too busy with their careers or otherwise to be very… parenty, but it seems to be such a common occurrence in YA that I wonder, is the author not wanting to deal with writing/creating familial bonds and dynamics? Are they trying to make it feel more mature by keeping out strict parents who may point to the fact that these are teenage kids? I’m not sure, and to be honest if done well it doesn’t bother me too much, but a lot of the time the missing parents syndrome gives the book sort of an unrealistic feel.

I’m not saying I need for both parents who are perfectly devoted and clued in to everything their kid is doing. Great parent/child dynamics can be so very unique for every family and every book. Which is why it’s unfortunate that it’s become so rare in YA – there are so many directions to take. Even though it can be cliché, I don’t mind one missing parent. Cliché or not, having been raised by only one parent for most of my life, I do relate to those kids. I have read and enjoyed many books involving a one-parent family dynamic and it can offer just as much.

Having so much familial absence does make those books with actual involved parents and a realistic family dynamic stand out. I’ve noticed that books with great family dynamics become really enjoyable reads to me as of late. It seems to be a missing elements that can give the book just that extra profoundness. Here are a few examples of books with great parental relationships:

However, there is a way you can take book parents a bit too far, as well. I have found myself annoyed by parent in YA so much at times that it affects my enjoyment of the book overall. Sometimes it’s because they are present, but are cold or so uncaring I want to slap them silly for procreating at all. Other times it’s by how annoying strict they are, to the point of getting on my nerves as a parent myself. I wasn’t raised in a strict home. I was left to make my own mistakes and choices when I was a teenager. Moreover, my mother’s way was if you can’t stop it from happening – and you likely can’t – control it the only way you can. For instance, she was smart enough to know that teenagers (at least where I come from) were bound to drink as some point, so she would tell me she’d rather buy me booze herself than not knowing what and where I would get it. Having no reason to rebel from rules fixed on my head, I never “snuck out”, I had no interest in drugs, and never even smoked a cigarette in my life. Being a believer that if you tell someone not to do something, they will do just that, I guess it plays a hand in my not having patience for parents who are clueless to this in books and try to control every aspect of a teen’s life. It doesn’t mesh with my own parental beliefs and upbringing. I like a balance of openness, while still being the parent figure the child needs them to be.

What do you think about missing parents in YA?
Do you have any recs for books with good family dynamics?
We’re looking for topic suggestions for future BGDC posts! What would YOU like to discuss (can be anything from vents to advice)?
Leave a suggestion via this short form!
You know you love me!
Xoxo, Book Girl!
The following two tabs change content below.
Canadian blogger, wife, mother, coffee lover, and sarcastic at heart! She has had a love for all things bookish since before Amazon and eReaders existed *le gasp*. You can also find her organizing tours and other fun things at Xpresso Book Tours.

Latest posts by Giselle (see all)

32 Responses to “Book Girls Don’t Cry: Where Are All the Parents?”

  1. Melanie

    Missing parents in YA seems to be the new ‘thing’ now. Next minute it’s going to be missing plot line or something. Ugh. I agree pretty much everything you said there Giselle, while occasionally a few excuses are fine, but sometimes it just becomes ridiculous- especially with contemporaries. After all, they are meant to be the more realistic type of genre.

    Unearthly trilogy is def. one of the best parent and teen relationship, along with Born of Illusion. While that one wasn’t a close and tight one, it was there and well developed. Another one that comes to mind is The Originals by Cat Patrick.

    Lovely post, Giselle! <33

  2. ahz1

    I’ve been asking this question for a while now. Where have all the parents gone? I’d love to see some YA with a healthy family dynamic. It doesn’t have to be a 2 parent family, just a family where there is someone who cares for the teens and offers them a good role model. Maybe I’m old fashioned, but there is something to be said about modeling a healthy relationship to your own kids.

  3. Nick

    Yeah, missing parents in YA books is like a trend. It’s annoying though because not all parents are constantly MIA and unaware of what their kids are doing. It just gives a bad image, you know? I read a book this week and the parent in that one leaves the teenage daughter all alone for 3 months while he’s in Germany! O_O My parents would freak out to even leave me 1 day at home and here this guy is leaving his daughter for 3 whole months! I’m not talking about the trust aspect but more on the safety. We all know the creeps that there are in this world, so I was shocked that he didn’t ask a close family member to stay with her or something.
    I know you saw my review of Darker Days! That’s one example of where the parents are thoroughly involved in the lives of the daughter without choking her with their overwhelming presence. I agree that books that have strong familial bonds are some of the best books.
    Great post, Giselle!

  4. Mary @ BookSwarm

    My mom was pretty much the same way and, as boring as it is, I didn’t sneak out, do drugs or smoke either. So, where are the parents in YA? They don’t have to be there all the time — that would be pretty unrealistic — but they do need to be there in some form or fashion. And where’s the rest of the family? The cousins, grandparents, aunts, uncles? Sheesh.

  5. Amy

    Fantastic post chick!! I still have to do mine. I might just do a vlog since I don’t feel like sitting down and typing up a post. It’s been a rough week. Though, I should wear my sunglasses if I vlog since I resemble an alien with how puffy and swollen my eyelids are lol! I snuck out all the time. I was kind of a bad teenager. My mom never really punished me for it though. I never got into trouble except one time.

  6. Savannah Bookswithbite

    Nice post. I think parents are missing in books cause well lets face it. Parents don’t make the kind of decisions teens do. And if they were there, they will just ruin the whole party.


    I agree it is pretty typical, but I don’t mind it so much, especially in speculative fiction, since those tend to be big grand adventures and what sort of parent in their right mind would let their children fight dark lords? It does get annoying for me when really overdone, though.

  8. Jesse Burgoyne

    Great post! I really think the lack of parents in most YA makes me love the books where parents are actually present so much more. One of my all time favorite families had got to be the Drakes from The Drake Chronicles by Alyxandra Harvey. I think I like it so much because the kids in that book actually respect their parents. I haven’t seen real respect for parents very often in YA books. Most times the kids just lie to them and seem to wish the parents were gone more often than they already are.

  9. Siiri

    Sometimes I’m even glad that there aren’t any parents there with the MCs since sometimes they CAN be so annoying, cold and really get on my nerves as you pointed out. I do enjoy great family relationships though since I have it pretty good with my parents and I have seen so much worse among my own friends as well so yeah.. I got lucky with mine:)

  10. Sophie

    I don’t read a lot of YA, but of the ones I have read, I haven’t noticed much of a parental presence. Even in Divergent, where the parents play quite a pivotal role, Tris leaves them behind to go elsewhere.

    Great post! 🙂

  11. Alexia Boesen

    Okay so I really hadn’t taken notice of this new trend before I read this post. However,now that I think about it there really seems to be a lack of parents in YA novels.

    In Entanglement,the parents are noticeably absent with the exception of the female MC’s parents. In Life After Theft,the parents are featured but they are either too restrictive or too lenient-there’s no middle ground.In The Forgotten Ones the female MC has been raised by her grandmother as her mother slips deeper & deeper into schizophrenia.

    Great topic!

    I may have to piggyback on this next Friday for Friday Musings #4

  12. Faith Sullivan

    It’s technically New Adult but I enjoyed how Stephanie Parent involved the father and the brother of her main character in PRECIOUS THINGS.

    And Charlie Swan will always be my favorite ‘dad’ of all time. He’s the master at creating a purple color scheme.

  13. Shooting Stars Mag

    Interesting post! I do think more YA books need to have parents involved. I don’t want them to be overly strict or annoying, but if the MC is a teenager, it makes sense for the parents (or even just one parent) to be somewhat involved in their life.

    I think Nevemore by Kelly Creagh did fairly well with the parents. They weren’t always there, but I remember it feeling it relatively realistic. 🙂


  14. Kate Midnight Book Girl

    I read Miranda Kenneally’s book, Things I Can’t Forget, and even though most of the action did occur at a summer camp, the main character still had a close, healthy relationship with her parents. It very much impressed me, because while my parents weren’t helicopter parents, they still knew where I was most of the time. I get that it’s hard to get teens to have the freedom that they need to achieve adult like story lines, but they could easily set up a “normal” relationship or come up with a more realistic outcome than the parents are dead/don’t care. There are a lot of single parents, lots of mixed families, parents going back to school, deployed overseas- there are realistic situations to explain why some teens have more freedom than others. In high school, my parents were already both retired, so they traveled a lot on the weekends, They trusted me not to throw wild parties or wreck the house because I was a good kid, but there’s lots I could have hidden from them.

  15. Jenea Whittington

    The missing parents is something that I run across more that the parents being there. I raise my oldest daughter for 5 years by myself and still a teenager myself, so I guess it bugs me when there is no parents around. I’m not sure where the parents go from middle grade to the ya books, but I do wish they would stick around.

  16. Ashley

    Gosh I totally agree. Why do all parents suck in YA? Whenever I read a book with involved, awesome parents I scream my joy to the heavens. One of my favourites is My Life After Now. I love her sweet, adorable, parents. I wanted to hug them so many times during the book!

  17. thepagesage

    I wouldn’t say Charlie from Twilight is an example of a good father/daughter relationship- I just read an article that talked about how he’s an enabler, and I would have to agree. However, there’s definitely a missing parent syndrome in YA books that sometimes borders on unrealistic. Some books with great parents are Audrey, Wait! and Also Known As by Robin Benway, the Mara Dyer books by Michelle Hodkin, and the Gallagher Girls series by Ally Carter. The Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Robin Palmer doesn’t have a healthy relationship, but a very realistic and touching mother/daughter relationship.

  18. Lizzy

    I completely agree that some books push the limits on what is appropriate. The book I’m reading now has the 17 year old driving to a city an hour away with a boy she just met. She’s an orphan…but really is this allowed by her guardian.

    The Faults of our stars by John Green…great parental involvement.

  19. Aman

    I don’t know what is the deal with missing parents or worst, the ones who don’t even care. Unearthly is a great example for a good parent, I love Clara’s mom. Other than that, I really can’t think of any other good enough parents.

  20. Leanne Yang

    YES! The books you mentioned are perfect examples of the best parental relationships! 🙂 Well, the ones that I’ve read so for anyways!

  21. playingjokers

    I actually don’t think that this is a new trend at all. Think of most fairy tales and Disney movies…one or both of the parents were always missing:

    Lion King: daddy dies
    Beauty and the Beast: no mommy
    Cinderella: no parents, stepmother
    Snow White: mommy dead, in some versions separated from father
    Hanzel and Gretel: neglectful/separated from parents

    There must be some real reason for it to be so prevalent throughout the times though. Great post!

    Michelle @ Playing Jokers

  22. Alexa Y.

    I would love to see more parents in YA! I always think that the parent-child relationship adds an interesting dynamic to any character, and it would be great to see that being used in books. I do, as you said, understand why the parents would be missing sometimes; but for the most part, it would be great to catch them involved in the kid’s story!

  23. Micheline D

    It was SO out of the norm for me to read about an MC with a parent (let alone two), that I mentioned just this in my review of Born of Illusion: the MC had a mom!!! A mom who was IN the story! Present and even INVOLVED! Sure, she wasn’t perfect but the mother/daughter dynamic was compelling and believable! I really do wonder if, like you said, authors just don’t want to bother with developing family dynamics. Anyways, Harry Potter was an orphan before it was so mainstream >.< LMAO

    Great post G ♥

  24. Mandi Kaye @ Never Too Fond of Books

    Something I recently commented on my own blog was “What’s the quickest way to ruin a YA novel? Parents.”

    And in so many cases it’s true. I think that’s why they’re often missing. Because parents don’t add inherent value to the plot. If parents act like parents, they screw up whatever trajectory the MC is on (see Beth Revis’ Shades of Earth). The parents, simply put, get in the way.

  25. Lauren Elizabeth

    Yes! So tired of the absentee parents. I really loved Clara’s relationship with her mother in the Unearthly series. Even when she wasn’t around she still had a presence in Clara’s life, and I loved that. I wish more books would take a cue from that series. Love this discussion!

  26. Leanne @ Literary Excursion

    I enjoy reading the family dynamics myself, seeing what I have in common with the characters and what’s different. Oftentimes it makes me appreciate my family more as well, and if a book can affect your real life like that, who’s not to like it?

    I’m adding some of those books suggested to my ever-growing TBR list. 😀 (Except Twilight, cause no.) Teeth has been tugging at my attention and Unearthly/Born of Illusion both have interesting covers. I wouldn’t have considered Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants on my own but I think I may give it a shot now. (And probably The Moon and More as well.)

  27. Rian

    This goes back a little bit, but another one with significant parental presence is Diane Duane’s “Young Wizards” series. But even there, they’re not _too_ very involved – and the reason, I think, is because of what was mentioned earlier. If the parents are too much there, they limit the choices/ decisions the teen characters make. And after all, books aimed largely at a teen readership are going to want to make those teens the movers, the focus. Once parents (or teachers, or other adults in supervisory roles) become at all prevalent, they tend to sort of take over the stage.
    Can it be done otherwise? Sure. Duane’s “Young Wizards” as I mentioned, and there are others. But it’s not easy, hence the current trend where their active presence is the exception.

  28. Angie

    We have discussed this in the group I moderate on goodreads a few times. It seems that in YA books the parents are always somewhere else. Any time we read a book that a parent is present everyone gets so excited. The paranormal books seem to really get rid of the parents somehow. They are always at work, they go on vacation, there is one parent so they’re super busy. It drives me nuts.

    Angela’s Anxious Life

  29. Jaime

    In the River of Time series by Lisa T. Bergren, the parents are a bigger part, even coming along with the girls to fight in Medieval Italy. However, that doesn’t happen until book 2.