Skip to comments.The Parent Problem in Young Adult Lit
Posted on 04/03/2010 5:46:04 AM PDT by reaganaut1
Judging from The New York Times childrens best-seller list and librarian-approved selections like the annual Best Books for Young Adults, the bad parent is now enjoying something of a heyday. It would be hard to come up with an exact figure from the thousands of Y.A. novels published every year, but whats striking is that some of the most sharply written and critically praised works reliably feature a mopey, inept, distracted or ready-for-rehab parent, suggesting that this has become a particularly resonant figure.
Sometimes the parents are very, very busy, and sometimes theyve simply checked out. The husband of the accident-prone mother is never home at night. Its not that hes with another woman; hes working late at the Johns Hopkins bio lab. In Laurie Halse Andersons best-selling Wintergirls, about a dangerously anorexic high school senior, the mom is a sought-after surgeon too pressed to notice that her malnourished daughter is a bit shorter than she was four years earlier.
Like the clownish adults on the Disney Channel or Modern Family, the not-in-charge, curiously diminished parent is just sort of there, part of the scenery. You can even spot the type in three best-selling fantasy series: Twilight, Shiver and The Hunger Games. In Twilight, the only reason Bella meets the supernaturally good-looking Edward in the first place is that she has moved to her fathers place in gloomy Forks, Wash.; that way, her mother can follow around after her new husband, a minor-league ballplayer. I stared at her wild, childlike eyes. How could I leave my loving, erratic hare-brained mother to fend for herself? (Edwards own parents are charming, competent and rich, but they are vampires.)
Afflicted by anomie, sitting down to another dismal meal or rushing out the door to a meeting, the hapless parents of Y.A.
(Excerpt) Read more at nytimes.com ...
I generally don't trust recently-published "young adult" literature, although some of it may be good. I'd rather my children read classic literature that has stood the test of time. If homeschooling Freepers have reading lists to post, I'm interested.
Here’s a link to the 1,000 Good Books List. It is not an exhaustive list.
And since the hippies are now parents and grandparents maybe they exist in far greater numbers than they did in the 50s.
That surgeon and that mom following the ballplayer sound like they are just following "free to be you and me" principles.
Thanks for that list!
Here is a site that has several lists. I have found it to be very helpful. You’ll be able to see where to find the other lists, this link is to the 3rd and 4th grade books.
A great list!
I never really understood ‘young adult’ literature. I think it’s a rising genre because they muck up the teaching of reading now and we’ve got generations of teens who are poor readers. Just average kids who are taught correctly should be reading at a regular adult level by junior high—and then who wants to read watered-down pap?
You have no idea how many times I’ve heard, “but at least he/she is reading!”.
I disagree with your interpretation.
All of the dysfunctional family situations described in the body of your post are OUTSIDE of the traditional family norm.
The traditional family norm has parents who provide for their children financially but do not sacrifice their kids for the sake of an even greater amount of money. The traditional family norm has a mother (or nowadays even a father) that is cooking the family dinner and not traveling around with her boyfriend. The traditional family norm has parents who eat the family dinner with their kids and are not so wrapped up in their jobs that they do not even notice that their kids are not eating at all.
If anything, the examples you gave in the body of your post are a longing for the days when Ward and June Cleaver were seen as the middle class American norm.
Face it. America is filled with bad parents and "parents" have absolutely nothing to do with "Family". Even the cockroach that you sprayed Raid on last week has "parents".
The examples you cite are a longing for "Family". .... The way most middle class "Families" used to be.
I watched a lot of Leave it to Beaver re-runs in the 1960's and I never heard the lines:
"Well, Beaver, I know it's true you haven't seen your mother for months because she is travelling around with her boyfriend, but that does not mean that June is a bad mother."
"Ward! I need to leave. Grand Rounds start in 30 minutes. Could you look at the Beaver before you leave for work? He may have lost 20 pounds since the last time I ever noticed him."
Sometimes low expectations aren’t even bigotry!
I was leafing through a kid’s book at church not too long ago (secular theme but published by “Scholastic Book Club” or some such)...it had misspelled words galore...I suppose the author was trying to be funny with some of the misspellings but I couldn’t call the book scholastic at all.
I think the answer is very simple. Just as news stories don't report, "Hey everything went well at Dianna's house today!", books must contain some kind of problem to be solved. Otherwise, who cares?
I have an almost 12 year old son and he's starting to read some of these books. Who would write about his life? He has married parents who look after his physical needs and help solve problems if need be. His problems are minor (some kid wouldn't throw a ball to him in gym class the other day) and if a major one comes up, we're here to help him deal and get the problem solved. That makes it 10 pages, instead of 100.
There is no story in, "My brother died 3 years ago and we're all ok." It's only a story if "my brother died and my parents freaked out and now I have to deal with them and the world by myself".
It’s always been a genre, tweens want stories about tweens, not little kids and not adults. It got huge when Harry Potter proved there were truckloads of cash in the market.
This year I Introduced the warrior series ( based on cats) and at least got 20% hooked. It might seem a feeble number, but the majority of kids don't read unless it's on a computer screen or handphone.
It was huge before that too. Back in the mid-90s, my daughter was in the second grade. Suddenly she started balking at going to school. When I finally identified the problem, it turned out to be book reports being given at school by kids reading the scary R. L. Stine books. She was afraid—not of going to school but of leaving me alone at home in our upper-middle class neighborhood.
I always thought Goosebumps was more kids than YA, but the dividing line is always hard to find, and certainly Stine proved there was a fat load of cash in the under 18 market. In the early 80s when I was in the target market YA was Hardy Boys and Judy Bloom, and they kind of sucked. I’m glad the market is finally being addressed.
You may be right about the Goosebumps target market. I didn’t let my daughters read them (not that they wanted to, it seemed to be a boy’s series like I guess Twilight is a girl’s series). The test of any series for kids, though, ought to be whether it leads to adult reading habits beyond the latest romance or Stephen King novels.
I have mostly given up on fiction these days, partly because of their inanity but also to avoid frequently profanity and immoral “heroes”. Besides, I tend to read in quick snatches of time and nonfiction fills the bill. I have my car book, my family room book, my living room book, my bath book, all being read whenever a find a moment to pick to up. I have hundreds of books in my library and find no problem avoiding insipid television or popular fiction.
Harry Potter could just as well have been likened to the earlier Hobbit, Lord of the Rings or Watership Down phenomena as being due to the kids in the school. But there are plenty of adult-level classic literature novels about children of various ages. I know it’s long been a genre but it really has exploded from a bit before Harry, I think, and I still hold that strong readers never really go for them—’cept maybe precocious 5th graders reading about naughty high schoolers!
Useless parents are a justification for kids orienting themselves along the lines dictated by the public schools and the mass media. Gee...who benefits from that?
I didn’t touch YA books unless I had too with a ten foot pole (We had these points we had to earn for reading books and taking tests and so I’m sure I read some). I couldn’t stand them. Books like Andersonville and Dune series were my playground in middle school and High School.
LOTR and Watership Down didn’t make their writers royalty rich. They were successful books, and over the long haul might be more successful than Potter, but over the short term, which is really what publishers are thinking about, they’ve got nothing on Potter, or it’s “predecessor” Goosebumps, or “successor” Twilight. These books series are licenses to print money.
It’s not just a matter of the books being “about children”, you can make a protagonist any age you like, it’s a matter of the books being about children that other children can understand. Children facing children problems. Trying to find their place in the world, dealing with being “different”, not feeling their parents understand them or are fair. It’s not the strength of the reader or the language, it’s the CONTENT being within the kids world view. LOTR is a brilliant book, and has great lessons for kids, but there really aren’t kid issues. Same with Watership Down. I read all those when I was tween age, but there was no identifying with them, nobody in those books was me. And that’s what’s driving the current push, authors have finally figured out how to put in characters that kid/ YA reader can not just like but UNDERSTAND.
I felt the same way. When I was in high school, I read only one YA novel, Don Robertson's The Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread (Fawcett, 1967), and it was a pretty good read. My favorite authors included Martin Caidin and Robert Leckie, who wrote non-fiction books on military topics.
Among I also read on my own at the age of 16 were General Claire L. Chennault's autobiography Way of a Fighter (G. P. Putnam's, 1949), Hector C. Bywater's fictional The Great Pacific War: A History of the American-Japanese Campaign of 1931-1933 (Houghton Mifflin, 1925), and Up Ship! by Charles E. Rosendahl (Houghton Mifflin, 1931), a book about airships, copies of which are now worth beaucoup bucks.
Thanks for the link! My wife teaches 5th grade and many of the books she has chosen from our approved list also appear on this 1000 books list. I’ll have to show her this tonight.
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