The concept of the “missing” or “absent” parent pops up in YA literature quite often. It’s become readily recognised as a trope. But is it a “problem” trope? And did it ever really exist?
Is there a current trend to overcompensate, even? Let’s have a look.
It’s easy to argue that many of your favourite books wouldn’t have been the same if proper parenting had taken place. So often the parents are either useless, absent, or, shock-horror-tragedy dead.
But take Harry Potter, for example. He’s lost his parents and not only is this a crucial plot point but it’s fundamental to his character development. Can you really say that he has been without parental figures though? No. His aunt and uncle weren’t the best guardians, but they kept him alive and kickin’ long enough that he could enter a place of greater benefit to him.
The adults at Hogwarts are perfect substitutes for absent parents. Which, if you think about it, every student is suffering from while they attend boarding school. Except for Malfoy. You have to hand it to the Malfoys for being very involved in their son’s upbringing…
Is it a genre thing? Perhaps it is more easily forgiving/understood that in, say, a fanstasy or SF type book, the parents aren’t much of a muchness.
Take ‘The Hunger Games’ or the ‘Gone’ series by Michael Grant. It asks questions of young people left to their own devices. And in turn it asks the reader to perhaps appreciate what they have a whole lot more, while also showing the road to independence and autonomy.
Lyra Belacqua from Philip Pullman’s ‘His Dark Materials’ features a girl left to her own devices, essentially. And then she follows the path to a great quest. By herself. Where the adults become the enemy (in the form of Mrs Coulter).
Because these are books for younger people, in the first instance. Sure, YA and MG reads have a much wider audience, but they are written for that age group. And as such, it has a job on its hands to reflect both a world that readership can relate to and also one they can escape into.
Contemporary books are very often theme-led. Heart-squeezers like Lisa Heathfield’s ‘Paper Butterflies’ or Estelle Laure’s ‘This Raging Light’ feature two very intense and very different domestic settings. Neither are stable, but both show us a situation that we will either identify with, or can empathise with.
But we hear you when you say “where the heck are the parents?” in some books. However, perhaps it’s not simply a case of missing parents, but something else entirely missing from a story. If you’re asking where the frack the parents are, you’re also probably asking questions about the plot, or the main character and their motivations.
Is it a parent problem? Or just a problematic read in general?
Sometimes parents have to be out of the way to allow for a more complete and satisfying story. Because, after all, these are only stories. They do need to reflect real life, for sure, but if it was an exact replica of real life it would probably be snoresville.
Surely the fun is in experiencing things through literature that you wouldn’t ever get to experience in RL.
Parents, or no parents, we’re not entirely convinced it’s a problem.
Thoughts? Tweet us @maximumpopbooks
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