Since I write YA literature, I spend a fair amount of time thinking about what role the parents are going to have in the story. Because my main characters have to have parents*, of course, but parents aren't usually the most interesting parts of the YA story. If they were, that wouldn't be YA, it would just be...A.
Recently, Liz B. over at Tea Cozy wrote a post about a New York Times article that dissed the role of parents in YA literature. In that article, author Julie Just says:
Maybe you can think of more recent examples than “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” (1885) — the gallant, no-good father from “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” (1943)? — but in the classic stories, from “Cinderella” to “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” the hero’s parents are more likely to be absent or dead than cruel or incompetent. ... And then the young adult novel came along.I have a question for Ms. Just: are you high?
Seriously? Because on what planet is Cinderella's father not cruel or incompetent? Or the other "classic stories" like, say, Snow White, in which her father throws her over in favor of his new wife**? Or, I don't know, Rapunzel, whose parents abandoned her to a sorceress who imprisoned her in a tower. That's some awesome parenting there.
Don't get me wrong--I'm not saying that the parents in modern YA lit are models of sanity and dependability. But...this isn't something new. This didn't happen, as Just suggests it did, with the invention of YA literature. It's archetypical. Joseph Campbell points out that most stories start with the call to adventure.***
And really, isn't that the point of YA lit? Isn't that THE archetypical story of YA lit? The call happens and the main character has to step into a role she didn't expect and maybe doesn't want, a bigger role, a more adult role. The main character is called to adventure and adventure ensues!
And if that doesn't happen--if the parents are great and there's no problem and everything is shiny and happy--well...where's the story in that?
* This isn't a Disney movie, where I can kill off the mom in the first five minutes and then fade to black.
** Maybe Snow White and Cinderella were cousins or something?
*** That's right, I'm getting all Hero With A Thousand Faces on you. What are you going to do about it? :)