Discussion Post: Parents in YA

There’s a recurring joke in the YA world that all parents in books are either

  • A) Dead
  • B) nonexistent
  • And when they do exist, they’re awful

There honestly is a lack of good parents in YA—a lack, even, of parents at all.

Out of this, a lot of bloggers often call for more good parents in YA. I understand the idea behind this: if reading is supposed to be an escape, then giving young adults a world in which parents are kind and supportive is an important responsibility of YA.

That being said, I also want to see more bad parents in YA.

The point, I think, of having good parents in YA is to give teenagers with awful ones an escape. Those books show teenagers what encouragement and love feels like and gives them positive voices to listen to when the real ones are negative.

However, reading should not just offer an escape from reality, but sometimes confront reality. This reminds people that others have survived what you are living through.

Here is the problem: the same way that YA has basically no parents, it also seems to have only a few types of bad parents. There are the parents who have fallen out of touch with their teens as they grew up, the parents who flat-out ignore their children, the parents who fail to recognize or accept their children for who they are.

But they have one thing in common:

At some point, there is a conversation and/or realization that brings the kid and the parent together, ending in understanding and forgiveness.

That relationship evolution is based in the idea that no parents are so blind or rooted in their beliefs that they could face their child in a moment of honesty and not fix themselves. It is based in the idea that teenagers and parents just don’t “work”—until they have breakfast together, cry it out, and reconnect. It is based in the idea that no parent is unforgivable, unfixable.

I’ve had a lot of friends, with a lot of parents who screwed them up in different ways. Parents who

  • Taught their children strict body image ideals that permanently made them to value being skinny over being healthy
  • Ignored their child’s depression, even when the child point-blank told them how they felt
  • Ignored their child’s attempt to speak about abuse
  • Decided their child was a chronic liar instead of listening to them recount problems they faced
  • Made their child fear the imperfection of an A- (let alone a B) so palpably that the child chose to value studying over taking care of their physical and emotional well-being

Parents who were more than clueless, more than out of touch. Parents who continued their behavior after confrontation.

Parents who honestly, I won’t forgive.

I am not saying that this applies to every bad parent in YA. They are not all bad in the same way, nor are they all forgiven. They aren’t. But it feels like there is a strong trend in favor of acting like parents making their children feel like shit was just a misunderstanding. And I’m not okay with that.

At best, it isolates teenagers. It takes a story that could be a beacon of hope—this character lived in the same situation but survived like this—and turns it into a “whoops, just kidding, you’re on your own.”

At worst, it gaslights teenagers into blaming themselves for their parents choices by making them believe their parents would be kind if they could just have the right conversation. This might sound like a far-fetched idea, but a lot of the teenagers I know have tried to talk to their parents about their issues, and it didn’t work. Not all of them, of course, but there are more than the two options: silence and forgiveness.

Young adult literature is complex. It cannot be defined by one trend or cliche. It has fluffy romances and heart-wrenching plots in both fantasies and contemporaries. YA has something for everyone to connect to. It gives readers things to laugh about and things to cry about. It helps us escape reality, and it gives us the tools we need to confront reality. The multitudes of YA are what makes it so incredible. 

I do not want every book published to have awful parents. I do not want every awful parent to end un-forgiven. What I do want is a YA that presents all types of parents, even the ones we would like to pretend don’t exist. 


What do you think? Was this post relatable? Are there any books you can recommend that break the forgiveness model?

Book Review: The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

Wow. This book pulls no punches. I don’t know how Stephen Chbosky crammed so much emotion into such a short novel.

5/5 stars

cover the perks of being a wallflower

Amazon Description

The critically acclaimed debut novel from Stephen Chbosky, Perks follows observant “wallflower” Charlie as he charts a course through the strange world between adolescence and adulthood. First dates, family drama, and new friends. Sex, drugs, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Devastating loss, young love, and life on the fringes. Caught between trying to live his life and trying to run from it, Charlie must learn to navigate those wild and poignant roller-coaster days known as growing up.

My Review

I definitely did not know what I was getting into with this book. I did not expect it to be so powerful.

Charlie was such a unique protagonist. Younger and shier than YA protagonists usually are, Charlie was undoubtably a wallflower, and I loved him for it. He started off the book innocent and naive, and it was painful to watch him lose his training wheels so quickly, and to realize that they’d never really been on. I liked that Chbosky wrote a character that was willing to cry (a lot), who felt emotions deeply, who cared about the injustices that his eyes were opened to. He wasn’t the perfect person–far from it–but he was the perfect protagonist for this story. Charlie was the type of character I couldn’t help but empathize with; I wanted to protect him, but at the same time, I wanted him to learn to stand on his own two feet.

The only part of Charlie that I didn’t love was his voice. Told as a series of letters, the book is at the mercy of Charlie’s youthful and inelegant writing style. While Chbosky was able to capture Charlie’s personality extremely well with this voice, it made actually reading the book somewhat annoying. I’m conflicted about this, because I want to reward skillful writing, but in this case, the skill resulted in the feeling of bad writing…AHH who knows. I still loved the book.

The other characters in this book were complex and realistic. I liked what each of them added to the story and how clearly you could see their influence reflected in Charlie’s personality. I wish that I’d read more of the books that Charlie and his teacher talked about, because I felt like I was missing subtle parts of the story.

The plot of this book is simple: Charlie trying to survive his freshman year of high school. He makes new friends, and has experiences with drugs, sex, and other hallmarks of high school. The plot provides an elegant structure for the real meat of the story: social commentary and discussions. This is the part of the book that really hits home. I was left thinking about the issues this book discussed for days after I finished it, unable to let go of the story. This book touches on so many issues our society faces today–LGBT rights, rape culture, abuse–and it talks about them with a powerfully plainspoken voice. The tone never feels judgemental or preachy. As an eyeopener, this book excels.

The ending of this book shocked me. I hadn’t seen it coming, though I’m sure if I reread it I will pick up subtle clues. It fit nicely with the rest of the book, avoiding the pitfall that so many twist endings make: straying so far from the rest of the book that it feels disconnected.

I have one major problem with the book, and that is that Charlie actually sent the letters. Can you imagine receiving these letters, days apart, not knowing who the boy who was pouring his soul out to you was? Charlie is seriously depressed at points in this book, and it honestly struck me as unfair and mean for him to put his problems on someone else without giving that person a chance to help. It might just be me and things I’ve gone through myself, but if someone had sent these letters to me, it would have destroyed me.

I just wish that that part of the plot had been addressed. I had convinced myself that the prologue would be a response from the guy, and when it wasn’t, I felt like a massive part of the story was ignored.

(Did anyone else have this problem? Please comment so we can discuss!)

I would recommend this book to anyone who is willing to have their emotions put through a rollercoaster ride for the sake of a powerful discussion of societal issues. This book is not an easy read. Even though it is short, it was an emotionally heavy read. I’m glad I finally read this book, and if you haven’t I would strongly encourage you to read it, even if it is outside of the genres you usually read.

 

Book Review: Stephanie Plum books 2 and 3 by Janet Evanovich

These books are pretty similar in regards to what I have to say about them so I decided to just make them be one post together.

Two for the Dough and Three to Get Deadly

both 4/5 stars

Genre: contemporary crime fiction (adult)

I really enjoyed reading both these books. They are easy reads, but manage to be well written and thought-provoking. Perfect for my first week back at school.

(Sophomore year is going well, though it’s exhausting, thanks for asking.)

*Amazon descriptions of book 2 and book 3 here.

Both books are very similar in structure and pacing. The plot does lag a bit in the beginning of the middle, while Stephanie dead ends over and over. It’s a part of the story that is important to her, but I felt it drag on, especially in book three. However, the ends of the books are always so climactic and compelling that I have trouble disliking the books.

I love Stephanie. She’s the perfect example of what people mean when they say a strong female character doesn’t have to be masculine or muscly. She’s a horrible bounty hunter, but she’s determined and has fairly good instincts. She handles what the world throws at her and doesn’t give up. Her fortitude and awesome sense of humor are endearing. Over the course of the three books I’ve read so far, she does grow as a character, learning and changing at a believable pace. I want to read the twenty-plus books in this series just to spend more time with her and see where she ends up.

The one problem I have with these books is that they are very obviously part of a long series. What I mean by this is that when you’re reading the books, you can tell Janet Evanovich is holding off on her dramatic plot points, especially the ones involved in her subplots, to be used later in the series. She does a good job of foreshadowing, promising her readers romantic conflicts and character developments, but only delivers tiny pieces in each book. It starts to get old by the third book. I want something to happen. Evanovich has promised me drama–I want to read it sometime in this lifetime.

Even with that said, I’m in love with these books. I plan to keep reading them until I need a change of pace (I’m guessing that will be in a few more books). With school being crazy and taking up most of my free time, I’m enjoying have a quick dose of humor on hand with these books. Whatever else the Stephanie Plum books are, they are hilarious.