Saturday, April 03, 2010

The Parent Problem in Young Adult Literature

I just read an interesting article on YA Literature by Julie Just in the New York Times. It examines the role of parents as either dead, absent, demonized, or so bland they fade into the background. It's something I've thought of with books for younger readers like The Boxcar Children and the Series of Unfortunate Events and the like. It does seem like there are an awful lot of orphan books out there. Which reminded me of how years ago when playing with my friends' daughter Hope, she informed me that we were sisters and our parents were dead. I was horrified. Then I remembered a version of "playing house" that my brother and I played on the farm. We pretended our parents were dead and that he was my older brother (though he is actually three years younger) and he was a carpenter named Tommy. I was a bossy sister who crafted the scenario and his persona as well as my own. So, yes, maybe there is something developmental about the idea of children wanting independence...

One of the most profound gems in the article is as follows:
Many contemporary young adult novels seem to reflect genuine confusion over what the job of parent consists of, beyond keeping kids fed and safe. This isn’t surprising, after a decade in which “overparenting” became almost a badge of honor and you could sign a child up for a clay-modeling class only to find that you, too, were expected to stay and make coil pots. The Mommy & Me trend helps explain the baffling numbers from a report, published in 2006, that found working mothers were managing to spend about the same amount of time per week with their children as stay-at-home mothers did 40 years ago. In those days they said “Go play” rather than “Go away,” but the comparison surely says something about the expectations of both groups.

When I think about my own childhood and how I was raised in the 70s and 80s, I would concur. The thought of my mother accompanying us to the swimming pool or the neighborhood park or outside to play is literally absurd.
I understand why that has changed with the times, but I wonder if it's always for the better.

Liz Burns from A Chair, A Fireplace & a Tea Cozy addresses Just's article here. All very interesting stuff.

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