A couple of days ago Kmont over at Lurv a la Mode posed the question: What's with all the crappy parenting in YA novels? I had to smile when I read her thought-provoking post as it's an old, familiar trope of young adult literature--remove the parental units and BANG! You've got free reign. It makes sense to a certain degree, right? In the absence of authority figures and/or the adults in the teen's life most likely to object to all manner of shenanigans, your protagonist can get up to scads of mischief, thus providing the crisis/plot/problem what have you. Better yet, kill off or mysteriously disappear one parent and you've got some juicy material for teen angst and conflict. This is an old trope stretching back to when orphans were prime protagonists in young people's literature and I do think things have changed over the years. But it does seem to still hold true in a large section of YA fantasy novels, since a kind, involved, non-self absorbed set of parents would likely never let their kids wander off with vampires, consort with underground trolls, frolic in the snow with unusually prescient wolves, etc.
At the same time, it should be noted that YA novels with fragmented, bifurcated, and absent families often accurately reflect real family life for many of today's young adults and I'll be the first one to say that running across glimpses of yourself or reflections of your life in a book is an experience unlike any other. Those are the books I read when I was 12 and 14 and that I re-read to this day because they spoke to me then and still resonate through the years. The lively discussion in the comments of KMont's post address these aspects of the issue and you should definitely stop in and take a peek. I appreciated her question, particularly as it was motivated by the fact that she, like me, is a parent and finds herself wondering if parents are dead in YA. For my part, I don't believe they are. And, since I read a lot of young adult literature, I thought I'd highlight a few of my favorite YA novels that possess that rare commodity--two involved, complex parents. This is not to say they are perfect by any stretch of the imagination! But they are there. They are trying. And, most importantly of all, their presence in the novel strengthens the narrative rather than weakening it.
Madeleine L'Engle has long been one of my favorite writers and I think she does families quite well. In her Time series, Meg and Charles Wallace's parents are integral characters in the story and saving their father from the IT's clutches is the whole premise of the first book. Both Mr. and Mrs. Murry are smart, loving people who teach their children by example and raise them to be active, independent thinkers. The same is true of L'Engle's Austin Family Chronicles. And while Mrs. Austin was never quite forcible enough for my taste, both parents are present and participating in what is going on in their children's lives.
Ellen Emerson White has a gift for razor-sharp characterization. In her President's Daughter series, she explores the unbelievably complicated dynamic between Meg Powers and her mother--the first female president of the United States. Both incredibly charismatic individuals in their own right, this four-book series refuses to shy away from the reality of mother-daughter relationships and how it is possible to love someone unconditionally, while having a hard time forgiving them for certain words and certain actions. Meg's father is a superb character in his own right. He is sympathetic, smart, extremely loving, and the depiction of his marriage to Mrs. Powers is breathtaking.
Garret Freymann-Weyr's Printz honor book My Heartbeat bowled me over when I first read it. A lot of it was sensitive, thoughtful Ellen and Super Cute James. And a lot of it was the exquisite writing. But even more of it was Ellen's tangled, emotional relationship with her older brother Link and their affectionate, if somewhat blind and overly anxious parents. They are both working parents, they have lives of their own, but they remain key players in their kids' lives and it shows. The scene where Ellen and Link are talking about their parents while watching Casablanca, and they stop and stand to sing "Le Marseillaise" because it's a family tradition makes me cry every time I read it.
These were just the first few that popped into my head when I cast my thoughts about for the "good" parents of YA. Which ones have I missed? And what's been your experience reading about parents and families in young adult novels?