The REAL Parent Problem in Young Adult Lit

In her April 1 New York Times essay, The Parent Problem in Young Adult Lit, Julie Just argues that today’s YA literature is rife with bad or ineffective parents. She writes:

…the bad parent is now enjoying something of a heyday… 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.

And:

Afflicted by anomie, sitting down to another dismal meal or rushing out the door to a meeting, the hapless parents of Y.A. fiction are slightly ridiculous. They put in an appearance at the stove and behind the wheel of the car, but you can see right through them.

If you have a chance to read the article, check it out. In the mean time, I have a few issues with Just’s broad categorizations and ultimately contradictory essay:

1. Some — maybe even lots of — parents are hapless, ridiculous, and hardly present. Sometimes it’s just who they are. Other times there may be an external explanation. In TWENTY BOY SUMMER, for example, Frankie’s parents are totally ineffective, but it’s not because “YA parents are bad.” It’s because they’re grieving the death of their teen son.

2. The best YA lit — arguably, any literature — is not that which paints the most accurate reflection of reality, but that which resonates most authentically with the intended reader. It’s the whole “perception is reality” thing. Regardless of the reality, lots of teens perceive their parents as inept, mopey, or even downright bad — I know I did. In my thirteen- to nineteen-year-old mind, Mom and Dad were clueless, ineffective, and, you know, stupid. (Not anymore, though! *cough* movingrightalong…)

3. The purpose of contemporary YA lit is not to teach lessons or set moral codes (though in some cases, this may be an unintended outcome, and that’s okay, too), and “good” versus “evil” in character traits, choices, actions, words, and values is a vast area of fuzzy grayness. Just because a parent isn’t smacking a kid Mommy Dearest style or abandoning him in the woods la Hansel and Gretel doesn’t mean she’s not abusing him, and this abuse can be so subtle as to seem like simple lameness or lack of presence. Remember when you were a teen? How many times could a simple look or shrug from your mother make you want to scream, “just listen to me!!?”

4. Like Janet Burroway says in WRITING FICTION, “…in literature, only trouble is interesting.” The epicenter of most contemporary YA novels (or, again, most novels in general) is a problem, issue, or incident from which the story-length internal and external conflicts grow, ultimately changing the main character(s). So if we have a teen main character with model parents who are effective but not helicopter-y, encouraging but not stifling, cool and laid back but firm and strong, in love but not mushy, trusting but not naive, not dead, not sick, not divorced, financially sound, all around awesome people… um, yawn. Where’s the story there? Where’s the conflict? What’s driving the main character to want something, and what’s preventing him from getting it? Where are the challenges that force him to grow over the course of the novel? If the parents aren’t the issue, than it’s happening at school, with friends and significant others, at work, or internally, in which case the role of the parents in the story absolutely takes a back seat.

Just cites Bella’s mother in the TWILIGHT series as an example of this “clownish, curiously diminished” parent, but honestly, when you discover your hottie emo boyfriend is really a vampire who finds it nearly impossible not to kill you, and your BFF is a werewolf who wants to kill your vampire boyfriend, your “loving, erratic hare-brained mother” kind of pales (no pun intended) in comparison.

Just also mentions Sara Zarr’s ONCE WAS LOST, a beautiful story that explores a teen’s struggle with faith and family in the wake of her mother’s DUI and subsequent rehab admission and the parallel story of a local kidnapping that sucks up what’s left of her pastor father’s attention. Just says:

…the father in “Once Was Lost” becomes somehow peripheral, his problems more muted and less interesting than his teenage daughter’s.

Well, duh! ONCE WAS LOST is Samara’s story, not her father’s. We’re in Sam’s head the entire time, seeing things through her eyes, perceiving things through her senses. If Zarr decided to revisit the story from Dad’s perspective, his problems would likely become very interesting, while Sam’s would rightly fade.

5. Contrasting contemporary YA literature with titles from the 1960s and 1970s — while making for an interesting cultural and artistic discussion — is not a way to effectively argue that today’s YA parents are lame. YA literature has exploded over the last decade. Not only did pioneering authors and passionate librarians pave the way for a broader range of stories and topics, but look at the social and economic landscape: Teens today have more direct purchasing power online and off, can more easily connect with friends and other peers for recommendations and sharing, and can even download content without ever having to interact with an adult. This means that there are fewer adult gatekeepers “screening” YA literature, allowing and even forcing contemporary YA authors to explore issues and characters in ways that were previously uncharted or censored. YA lit today is just different from YA lit 40 years ago, just as parents and kids are different, relationships at home are different, television and movies are different… everything is. And 40 years from now, everything will have changed again.

The real parent problem?

In my opinion, the real parent problem in YA lit is not that parents in contemporary YA stories are ineffective, mopey, and bad. It’s that some parents (and other adults) in real life continue to stereotype and generalize YA as ghetto sub-genre that doesn’t teach the “right” lessons… or they just plain forgot what it was like to be a teen.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on The Parent Problem in Young Adult Lit, readers and authors. So hop on over and read the article while I work on conjuring up some more bad parents for book three!

50 Responses to The REAL Parent Problem in Young Adult Lit

  1. Janelle says:

    WOW! My thoughts exactly! The article really irritated me, and I am glad you wrote this out. Thank you!

    Janelle

  2. Carla says:

    I read the article yesterday and I was a little peeved by how one sided her argument was. Surely if this woman is an editor then she knows that realistic fiction is what readers want. Perfect familys are real, but they are incredibly rare. My mum for example is a true blond, and not in a bad way. I am more intellectual than her, but thats because in her generation, not a lot of girls went to college or university, they raised families and got jobs. She sometimes can be really dense, and yes, when I was a teenager this infuriated me, I thought she was this thick fickle human being, who just shrugged all the time. She drove me insane. Surely, if something resonates with you as a reader, then most probably, you relate to something the character is dealing with, therefore, the story they have painted is one that seems realistic and true to life.

    Of course in Once Was Lost the fathers story would seem inconsequential, because its not his story we are reading about. This woman is basically contradicting herself and demeaning a lot of amazing books that done so well because the families were dysfunctional, because people relate to this more. Statistically, most marriages end in divorce, a hugh percentage of the marriages have affairs, families have all sorts of problems. So writing a family that is so well structured and balanced with no problems at all, will resonate with the minority, whereas a family with issues, which people can relate to, will most certainly resonate with the majority.

    Ha, sorry about the long comment :-)

  3. There are times I’ve questioned the lack of parenting, thanks for this! As a reader (not a writer) I wonder if adding more depth OR having parents involvement would also distract from the real story wanted to be told? That’s how I have rationalized it :)

    Mel

  4. Shari Maurer says:

    I read the NY Times article and was about to write a post on my own blog. Read yours and realized I didn’t have to–you said it perfectly.

    I also think it’s okay to have intact families sometimes. In my book, Change of Heart, I purposely gave my main character two married, relatively normal parents, though my mc does not get along with her mother at the beginning of the book. I felt I wasn’t seeing a lot of 2 parent homes in the books I was reading and wanted to represent that in my book. Hopefully this worked for this particular story.

    Thanks for this post. It was a great response to the article.

    • Sarah Ockler says:

      Hi Shari – I was just reading about your book yesterday after seeing the tenners trailer. I’m really looking forward to reading it! I think every story is obviously different, and in your case, I’m sure your choices for the story work perfectly. Plus, from what I read about the story, your MC’s struggles and main source of conflict lie elsewhere. On a side note, organ and tissue donation is a cause very close to my family, so I’m even more intrigued by CHANGE OF HEART. :-)

  5. There’s no mold for parents. Like the teen characters themselves, the parents in YA books fall into every category. They’re drunk and absent and ridiculous and self-centered and loving and effective.

    I think the only trap that some YA books fall into is assuming that the parental figures in YA NEED to be messed up in order to make the story interesting. It’s possible to have caring parents in a YA book that are also sidelined and flawed. In my own personal life, my parents were wonderful and involved, however they weren’t present in most of my adventures. My parents were like my touchstone. They were the safe haven I returned to when I needed to recharge and regroup.

    • Sarah Ockler says:

      Shaun, exactly. There are plenty of real world families that have involved, effective parents, and that translates into YA lit through stories where those types of families exist. The dysfunctional or broken family in YA lit *is* problematic when it’s used solely to make an ineffective story “work.” In those cases, I call it lazy writing, and that goes not just for parents but for any stereotyped character (the best friend, the MC herself, etc.).

      I also appreciate your point about your own experience – just b/c your parents weren’t always present for your adventures, how great that you still had them as a safe haven. Thanks for commenting!

  6. Alyson says:

    I realize that most teens do view their parents are ineffective or lame. However, not all adults need to be portrayed in this light. As a member of the adult community portrayed foolish, mean, or clueless (I am a school principal), I do see teens who have positive adult role-models (some even like their principals). This may not always be their parents (teens don’t view their parents realistically) but often an adult friend of the family, a friend’s parent, a favored teacher, coach or other is seen positively, and can mentor or support or guide a teen. Yet many of these adults are missing in YA fiction (not always but more often than not).

    In Beautiful Creatures, Garcia & Stohl had some wonderfully varied adults. Yes, the father was not positively portrayed (with good reason), but others were positive and often with good balance. However, for every one novel where I can think of some positive adult role models (not always perfect adults just positive), there are at least 10 where the adults are either absent or clueless.

    Maybe what I am appealing for is some balance.

    • Sarah Ockler says:

      Excellent points, Alyson. That was one of the things I loved about BEAUTIFUL CREATURES, too. The father was totally absentee, but Amma and some of the other adults were wonderfully present, positive though flawed, strong, and well-developed characters in the MC’s life. I think that balance you mention is important (and 100% realistic), too, whether it’s from a teacher or principal, other adult relative, parent of a friend, etc. I just think that with some stories, those characters aren’t involved in the story so they don’t get that face time on the page that the parents might get. This is perhaps as much a problem as portraying all of them as clueless oafs! Definitely something for writers (me!) to consider. Thank you!

  7. Lee Nichols says:

    This was exactly my response to the article. Plus, I think she really misses the point that it’s a time in which teens separate from their parents and begin their own lives and adventures.

    • Sarah Ockler says:

      Absolutely. I think that point was even supported by a few people on the NYT article comments — teens are starting to figure out who they are, separating from parents, finding their own paths, making their own mistakes and achievements. The thing that bugged me, too, was that part of the article seemed to rail against bad parents in contemp YA lit, and part seemed to praise the even “worse” bad parenting portrayed in teen lit from the 60s and 70s where the parents were downright obviously cruel and abusive or abandoning. It was like, “bad parents are bad, but if they’re *really* bad, then it’s a little better.”

  8. Lynkay says:

    This is an extremely eloquent rebuttal to the article that made me cringe. I think Adults in general need to get off their high horse and first, read some YA titles before generalizing. Second, they need to stop thinking that we as YA writers HAVE to teach a lesson. Third, they need to stop the stereotypes.

    YA literature is so rich, and is such an amazing universe of characters with problems that reflect some teens out there and some families. That connection makes the books interesting to the teen audiences and the adults who love YA. Like you said, people need to remember that during the Teen years, you are most probably thinking your parents know absolutely nothing about the world you live in. And the truth is that many parents out there, can’t or won’t know how to deal with their teenage children, thus leaving them to do as they wish and not caring. Or in other cases, trying to act cool, which only makes them look ridiculous. That’s the reality that we are portraying.

    Thank you so much for your post!

    Lyn

  9. OMLFG says:

    Loved your piece, which I might add, was more coherent and substanative than Just’s. After reading her article yesterday my thoughts were simply, “duh!” Not sure what exactly her point was other than to feel jealous that the YAs in the stories were getting all the attention.
    Hope you’re sending your piece to “Letters to the Editor.”
    BTW love your hair & miss you
    YFA

  10. Saundra says:

    Thank you for saying all the smart words, Oh Sarah. ♥

  11. Sher says:

    I am a Mother of a YA Writer. I have read my daughter’s first two of many, I am sure, YA Books. I must say her father and I are very proud of our daughter and her works. I find her works very informative as well as entertaining. I wish I would have read YA books before I had kids, I could have learned something…I could have learned a lot about parenting. The good and the bad about parenting. When I first learned my daughter was writing about “Teen Life” we thought it was going to be about our “parenting” and that was scary! But I hope in part it was our parenting, what we did right and what we did wrong that influenced her writing and helped her become the successful woman and writer she is today.
    You go Girl!! Keep believing in yourself and your writing and continue on with your success…make the world of YA take notice!

  12. cjomololu says:

    Great article/response. Without bad parenting, my book wouldn’t exist and I’ve gotten enough emails to know that kids really do grow up in unimaginable situations.

  13. Sarah, I have read this post a couple of times today and really couldn’t find anything to add. :)

    I agree wholeheartedly and am glad you took to the time to write up your response.

    Cheers,
    Karen

  14. There is also something to be said for “bad” parents (ineffectual ones, selfish ones, absent ones, whatever) forcing the teen main character to figure out her problems for herself. This makes for a better main character… a more dynamic main character. If Mom and Dad were awesome and amazing (and I’ve seen some criticism out there about that end of the spectrum, too, that YA lit parents are either horrible or awesome and nothing in between — uh… snoozefest?), they would swoop in and save the day for their teen! And what kind of story would that be?

    I loved this blog, Sarah, and think you’re right on target. Personally, I think if you (universal “you”) can’t read YA through anything but adult’s eyes, you shouldn’t be reading YA at all.

    • Sarah Ockler says:

      Yes! There was two comments on the NYT article that really drove your last point home for me, too:

      “I’m an old, old, person. And I don’t read young adult novels. To me, little can be more boring than a story designed for a child. Love the sinner, hate the sin.”

      And –

      “…My children bring home this trash from school, and it is all awful. ALL of it. Real writers have something to say… authors of “Young Adult” literature have nothing to say. If they had something worthwhile to say, it would not fit neatly into that or any other category.”

      Well, I’d argue that a “real reader” has something to learn and gain from ANY story, whether it’s a picture book or some lengthy “adult” tome, a biography or even a math text book. And as far as boring, well, that person has also forgotten what it’s like to be a teen! I really can’t remember the last time I read a boring YA book.

  15. Tammy says:

    I agree–one problem is that some parents really do represent those things, and that conflict is drama.

    There’s also one important key element to YA fiction that is readily seen in fairy tales: the mother HAS to be a wicked step mother or the father HAS to be a single, grieving, well-meaning but inattentive parent because a “good” mother and father who did not have something else going on (their grief, their own drama/flaws) would NOT let their kid go on wild adventures.

    If Bella’s parents were not single parents with their own issues just trying to do their best, do you think they’d let their child date a werewolf or a vampire? If Artemis Fowl’s mother was well, would he be off on far-flung adventures? Would Harry Potter be facing Voldemort alone, if his parents were still alive? No. They’d be having those adventures FOR their son, whom they’d be trying to protect (protection=their current deadness anyways, so circular logic, I suppose).

    If these teens’ parents were stable/present/alive/whatever, these kids would be in bed by 10 and would be spending their evenings doing homework after a wholesome, healthy dinner the family prepared together, not off having adventures.

    Even though Dorthy Gale had an idyllic life in Kansas, it was her discontentment with that life, and her perception of unfairness that drove her adventure in Oz.

    Dysfunction is necessary for the hero’s journey.

    • Sarah Ockler says:

      I know my parents would NEVER have let me date a werewolf or a vampire! They wouldn’t even let me date a skateboarder. :-)

      • Tammy says:

        Meanie-parents! Not letting you make the important choice of necrophilia or bestiality for yourself! I mean, seriously. The condition for the possibility must exist for children to have a “secret life” in Young Adult books, otherwise they’ll be getting dropped off and picked up from band camp and in bed at a reasonable hour, JUST LIKE ME.

        And do I want to read books about girls who do little other than go to school, band and home? NO. I want to read about them having fantastic adventures (because having a vampire boyfriend is WAY more fun than a boyfriend who works at Burger King!), or going through life-traumas such as the death of a loved one or addiction (not because it brings me pleasure but because it is a dress rehearsal for when I face these things in real life).

  16. Beth Kephart says:

    A friend pointed me in the direction of your blog today, and I’m so glad she did. Julie Just’s piece (which I also responded to, but in more personal times) raises a lot of issues, for sure. Teen literature has evolved in so many ways since the Wizard of Oz and Cinderella; one of those ways is that it is truly written for teens, with the great range of problems teen face and the extraordinary range of family cultures and possibilities. The real quest we writers of teen lit is on, I think, is to create stories that resonate as somehow real, stories that are remembered for the right reasons, and stories that force us all to question what we thought we already knew (even us authors).

    • Sarah Ockler says:

      YES! I love when I read something that really stays with me, especially when it forces me to challenge my own perceptions about life and relationships. It makes us all better writers and storytellers, really.

  17. Julia Burke says:

    Sarah, you’re right on.

    I’m curious what Just has in mind for a “good” representation of a parent in YA; she begins the article with the point that in the classics (Wizard of Oz, Cinderella, etc) parents are most often entirely absent from the story. She has no problem with this but seems alarmed by the fact that parents in most of today’s YA lit aren’t dead, just flawed. Seems according to Just, the Evil Stepmother, Auntie Em (willing to give away Dorothy’s dog without even putting up a fight??) and the slew of dead parents in children’s literature are just fine, but a busy, emotionally absent or grieving parent? Now that’s just lazy writing.

    Just suggests that this “new” trend refocuses blame not on teens themselves but on home lives which are, to reference The Breakfast Club, “unsatisfying”; instead of the good old days when teens were getting into fights in parking lots, now they’re grumbling over their peas and carrots at dinner. (Maybe it’s me, but I don’t remember Holden Caulfield having the best parents either.) I disagree – in a good YA novel the protagonist never focuses blame for his/her problems solely on an outside force, or at least not by the end. And as Sarah mentioned, many, many parents DO contribute to their children’s sorrows – it’s just more socially acceptable today to write about this truth.

    Anyone else totally baffled by the ending of the article? A Carvel cake that says, “Goodbye Mommy,” followed by a those-were-the-days closing line? Creepy. Just ultimately makes Sarah’s point for her, with an inadvertent example that we all have flawed home situations. If you believe, as I do, that the goal of YA lit is to be honest and connect with young adults on a real level, then ignoring this fact of life is a recipe for failure.

    • Sarah Ockler says:

      I was confused by the ending, too – especially when Just says this in relation to her friend’s mother leaving her family:

      “Back then parents knew how to get out of the way and let the orphan’s rise begin.”

      It’s like she’s saying it’s “better” to abandon your kids than to just be emotionally unavailable or ineffective so that the kids have a better chance at… rising, I guess? Bizarre. It’s why I found the article overall kind of contradictory.

  18. Di Herald says:

    Well said!

    It was very odd to see the article as I had just written a Book List for the June issue of VOYA about positive portrayals of adults in YA lit. My perception is that over the last quarter of a century parents and other adults have moved from being almost non-existent in teen books to being more evident. Yes, some are awful, monsters even, but some are pretty darn decent. Blake’s parents in Madigan’s Flash Burnout come immediately to mind (yeah, so what if Marissa’s mom is a Meth addict, she doesn’t play much of a role and it isn’t her story). Some are heroic like the TJ’s dad in Crutcher’s Whale Talk. According to a Pew study it looks like teens today are twice as likely to have good relationships with their parents than Baby Boomers reported on their relationships with parents. I’m seeing this reflected in the hundreds of YA titles I see every year.

  19. Scott Tracey says:

    This was seriously such a fantastic post. You said everything I was thinking (and more!) after reading that article yesterday.

  20. I agree with you, as well; though I do have an issue with parents in YA in the sense that most are completely absent more so for ease of plot rather than being an integral portion of the plot itself.

    That’s when I have a problem with it.

    I see it as a huge cop out. Rather than working with the parents in a story to make the storyline difficult (cause let’s face it, there are parents who get P.O.’d if the kid is out past a certain hour or if they just don’t show up), some authors tend to omit them completely or make them stupid. But every parent (or set of parents) is different, just as every teen is different so having some form of diversity among how parents act in YA is great. But when books continue to pop up where every single parent is absent for convenience, I have to raise an eyebrow.

    But I do agree that parents like this do exist, and that YA books aren’t written to teach the “right lessons.”

    • Sarah Ockler says:

      I agree with that, too. If the parents aren’t naturally, organically absent or clueless for a reason that makes sense within the story, than it just reads as lazy writing. Teens are generally sophisticated readers — they can spot that kind of setup from page one. As I was reading Just’s article, I kept waiting for her to clarify her point about “bad” parents with that exact comment — that the absentee/ineffective parents negatively impact YA lit when they’re used as a plot contrivance — but she never even went there.

  21. Mer_Barnes says:

    A fantastic analysis! Thanks so much.

  22. Katie says:

    THANK YOU for this eloquent response to that article! I ranted to my husband for 30 min about pretty much every point you touched on. I especially agree with your point about the fact that the book is going to reflect the reality perceived by the MC, and most teens do not see their parents as awesome ppl. Sad but true. I had some pretty amazing parents myself, and when I was a teen they seemed distant, moody, imperfect, unkind, unfair, even messed up to me. And also, a lot of the adventures kids get mixed up in couldn’t happen without the parents being dead/gone. Example cited: Harry Potter.

    Anyway, excellent post. I shall retweet to spread your good sense!

  23. Sarah,
    I was thinking of replying to Just’s article when I read your perceptive and powerfully written response. You said it all!! Depicting parents and any adults in YA fiction is a challenge. Adolescence is the time of figuring out how to have a successful independent life. Adults may have great supporting roles, or may be the obstacles that must be overcome, but teens and their perceived world is what makes YAL distinct and intriguing.

  24. Bill Cameron says:

    There’s a certain defensiveness to Just’s piece, almost as if she concerned about being confused with the characters she’s criticizing. Though I do believe Alyson’s comment above is thoughtful, I confess to sensing a bit of defensiveness there as well.

    It is true that in real life there are strong and effective adults in young people’s lives. But sadly, not nearly enough. Based on performance, it strikes me the goal of the adult world must be to teach teens adults are arbitrary, capricious, incapable of exercising sound judgment, and generally petty and selfish. The idea that some kind of balance is owed in fiction just because not all of us suck strikes me as being more about serving our egos than telling a good and authentic story.

    There’s little I admire more than thoughtful, engaged parents, school administrators and teachers, and other adults who seek to be a positive force in the lives of children. But there aren’t enough of them, and it should surprise no one when the fiction which speaks most powerfully to young readers is populated by the rule rather than the admirable exception.

    • Sarah Ockler says:

      I didn’t read Alyson’s comment as defensive, but do I like your points. And you know, even when teens with lackluster or downright abusive parents find a connection with another positive adult like a teacher, coach, other relative, or a friend’s parent, that adult is not likely the one involved in the teen’s life day-to-day, night-to-night. The constant presence, positive or negative, is more likely the parent (unless there’s an alternate living situation).

      • Bill Cameron says:

        I certainly didn’t mean to be critical of Alyson in particular, and I don’t want to suggest her comment was merely defensive. The discussion here has been great. Fascinating and enlightening!

        • Sarah Ockler says:

          Oh, definitely! I got what you were saying. Thanks again for adding to the discussion. I’m glad I wasn’t the only one who took issue with Just’s piece!

    • Alyson says:

      Bill – I wasn’t trying to be defensive. Trust me I realize that there are many, many messed up parents out there (and teachers, and principals, etc.). I work in an urban school environment with kids who have very, very complicated lives. Many of the students at my school are in foster care or live in group homes. Others are living with extended family members while one parent or the other is in and out of jail or rehab or something. And even those who are living with one or both parents are often dealing with amazingly difficult circumstances. However, what I realize is that the kids who survive those immensely insane life circumstances will point to one or two or three adults who they knew believed in them. And yet to be honest, those same teens would probably tell you they “hated” them in the moment. Even when we know something is good for us, we don’t always like to acknowledge it when it is happening.

      Yet what I do know is that in real life, the solutions to a child’s problem isn’t wrapped up neatly in 350 pages. And for some teens that book they are reading may be the only place that they find a sense of hope for what they are facing and if they can see a Main Character who could trust or depend on an adult then maybe they will find that person in their own lives.

      Didn’t mean to put a damper on anything or criticize anyone either. I work hard to get kids to read and when I put a book in a reluctant reader’s hands I want to feel good about it. It may just open a door for them that they didn’t know existed.

      • Bill Cameron says:

        Alyson, I appreciate your follow-up. I think you touch on one of the dilemmas writers face as they tackle the kinds of themes and situations we see in contemporary YA. Recognizing the support of someone in the moment may not be possible. If the writer is inside the POV of one of these teens, how much do we actually see of what may be going on outside the awareness and understanding of POV characters.

        So then the question becomes is there an obligation on writers to present a helpful or effective adult so the point isn’t lost? I’d think the answer to that question is no, much as we might hope teens have these figures in their lives.

        As a writer of crime fiction, I face a similar dilemma. If I choose to write a story about a bad cop, (which I have) should I also include a good cop (of which there are many in the real world) in order to have balance? Once again, I think the answer is no. It’s not that I’m against presenting good cops in my stories, but if the only reason I’m including such a character is be “balanced”, then the integrity of the story comes into question. It becomes about the agenda (show balance, show good cops, show positive adult influences) rather than about the story itself, which may or may not include those things.

        Anyway, just one writer’s thoughts.

  25. CreativeA says:

    Thanks for pointing out that article; it was fun to hear about the development of this phenomenon.

    -Mandy

  26. [...] I sat down to write a blog post about it, but before I did, I was Tweeted in the direction of a wonderful post by Sarah Ockler, author of Twenty Boy Summer. The post was well-written and everything I wanted to say and more. And [...]

  27. I love #4, “only trouble is interesting,” and I think it’s the perfect counterpoint to Just’s piece.

    I am lucky enough to come from a family of two parents who were very involved in my life. I had a happy childhood, and am well-adjusted as one can reasonable expect a librarian to be. My parents always knew where I was and who I was with, and as a result, I rarely got into trouble. My life as a YA novel would be a snooze.

    • Sarah Ockler says:

      I’m glad you mentioned that because I was thinking the same thing. And my family wasn’t “perfect” – we had plenty of drama (*cough* mostly my doing) – and I STILL think my life would be a snooze of a novel!

      The format of books and movies is such that “real” things are often condensed, rearranged, and even exaggerated so that they have the most impact in the shortest time (which is why there isn’t a lot of sleeping, washing, etc. going on in books). You’re not really reading the whole story, just the interesting parts. Logically, stable non-dramatic parents and adults would take a back seat.

  28. [...] been a lot of reaction to Just’s article, not just from Liz B. and Miss Print, but also from Sarah Ockler who also makes very good points in reaction to the half-baked [...]

  29. [...] is largely the issue I take with Just’s essay, as well.  But Sarah Ockler made a post on her blog about the issues she sees with Just’s article and provides several examples that are [...]

  30. [...] like YA fiction—dismissing the entire category as trite, unimportant, non-literature (*cough* Julie Just and the Parent Problem, anyone? *cough*). Belkin misses the mark here, too. YA doesn’t have to pretend—lots of it does [...]

  31. [...] in her New York Times article, The Parent Problem in Young Adult Lit.   Sarah Okler’s blog, making stuff up, writing it down, gave some great arguments against Just’s article.  Teen fiction is about [...]

  32. […] rule because teens want to read about teens and the teen world.” In fact Sarah Ockler in her blog “The Real Parent Problem in Young Adult Lit” goes so far as to give the following pieces of […]

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