Finding the “good” parents in YA Lit: A Challenge of sorts

On April 1* found an essay in The New York Times called “The Parent Problem in YA Lit” by Julie Just who apparently is the children’s books editor of The Times which just makes the article more frustrating. (I heard about it from Leila from Bookshelves of Doom** who linked me to Liz B’s post about it at A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy.)

Like a lot of readers, I don’t really understand what Just was trying to tell the world with her essay. I didn’t really see a point to it but Liz B’s theory that Just was more wondering about the real parents of today than the book ones makes more sense than anything else I could come up with.

Whatever the point, I had a real problem with the essay because no matter what she was trying to convey part of that message was that parents in YA novels are not always absent (allowing young people to rise triumphantly as Just notes in the essay) and not always realistic or “good”*** and instead tend to be losers compared to the teens presented.**** I don’t think that is a fair claim and I don’t think it’s an accurate one. Like any other genre there’s a cross-section–the good and the bad are presented.

Suffice it to say the article got under my skin and I want to prove Just wrong.

I want a list of “good” parents, “real” parents, parents who could be role models instead of horrible examples, parents readers will like as characters even if they might not identify with them (because, hey, YA books are written for teens not parents).

And I want your help!

Which brings me to the real point here. Join me in solving Just’s parent problem. Let’s find the good parents in YA Lit.

Here’s the plan:

For the rest of April I invite you, my readers and fellow bloggers, to put together a list of your top 5 (or 10) YA books with “good” parents. The list can be annotated with why the parents are good or it can just be titles and authors, whatever make sense for you. If you want you can respond to Just’s essay or you can just make a list.

What is a good parent? Well that’s up to you. I refer you back to the garish red blockquote earlier in the post. “Good” parents are not necessarily perfect. But they’re real. They try to help. And they make sense to the characters and the readers. They might be role models or friends. That’s my criteria and it might mean something different to everyone but I’d suggest using it as a starting point. Maybe the criteria will be mentioned before the list, maybe it won’t–up to you.

Now, what do you do with this list?

Bloggers: Do what you do best, post it! Link back to this post so I can find it and add it to my master list and post whatever you want to add to the parent conversation along with your list.

Readers: If you want to play along but you don’t want to blog, leave your opinions and titles in the comments (some posts might be held for moderation but I will approve them ASAP).

You have until April 30 to put together your list and post it. Let’s see how many good parents we can find together!

View the Master List

View my List

*April 1 was not a good day for me. Just about every Internet April Fool’s Day joke I saw played me for a fool even though I know mama didn’t raise no fool; one joke from Celtic Thunder was barely a joke because it said George was leaving which is NOT funny AT ALL.

**I want to point out that Leila from Bookshelves of Doom raised the interesting theory that perhaps this was an April Fool’s joke but alas I think it was written in all seriousness.

***”Good” parenting can be defined in many ways. I took it to be both realistic and active parenting where a parent is involved in a teen’s life and not their chief nemesis for every single minute.

****Losers is my own terminology choice but I thought it might have been implied from the rather loaded passages Just used to support her thesis such as it was.

13 thoughts on “Finding the “good” parents in YA Lit: A Challenge of sorts

  1. A recent one that comes it mind is If I Stay by Gayle Forman. The parents are active, interesting, supportive and loving (which makes the story all the more dramatic and heart-wrenching).


  2. I really liked the parents and their relationship to the main character in Audrey, Wait!. And to agree with Liz B, I’ve always found Sara Zarr’s depictions of parents very sympathetic, that even when they’re making mistakes they seem relatable. Sweethearts especially so.


  3. My coworked suggested “Flash Burn” by L.K. Madigan. I would also include “The Lonely Hearts Club” by Elizabeth Eulberg, “The Lightning Thief” by Rick Riordan, “Inkheart” by Cornelia Funke, and “Exploits of a Reluctant (but Extremely Good Looking) Hero” by Maureen Fergus. If I think of more, I’ll let you know!


  4. I think that both sets of parents in Will Grayson, Will Grayson are great. One is a single mom who does her best to cope with her depressed son and take care of him. The other set is a pair of doctors who walk the line of making sure their child is safe and letting them have freedom.

    I think part of why there are bad or absent parents in YA is that they need to be absent. The stories (the majority) aren’t for parents to enjoy (not that they can’t) but they are for teenagers who want to find out who they are and be independant. Part of being a teenager is finding out who you are and growing up to be free from your parents (even if they are the best parents ever). You can’t always do that when your parents won’t leave you alone. Plus what parents are perfect.

    I love the imperfect parents in A Total Tragedy of a Girl Named Hamlet. They are Bard fanatics and wonderfully imperfect. They try their hardest but like the rest of us make mistakes.


    1. Thanks for the suggestions, hadn’t heard much about the characters in either yet. I think in some stories there is a place for absent parents to allow their children (or teens in this case) to make their “triumphant rise” but I also like a book with a realistic family unit–even if it is as zany as Hamlet’s family sounds.


  5. I just finished Chasing Brooklyn by Lisa Schroeder and three of the four parents are good, supportive parents. Marcelo’s mother in Marcelo in the Real World is a wonderfully supportive mother and even his father, as creepy as he is in other ways, is trying to be supportive in his own way. Both seem like pretty accurate descriptions of modern parenthood.


    1. Thanks for the suggestion Tiffany! I’ve heard so many good things about Marcelo in the Real World. Thanks also for bringing Chasing Brooklyn to my attention.


  6. I like your blog – it was recommended by Librarian Kate ( I tried to come up with a YA Wiki for my MLS class, but she suggested I look at your blog for ideas on how to do good visual marketing. I’m thinking of putting a book blog together of my own (may or may not be in YA novels.) Anyway, just wants to let you know I’ve added you to my blogroll. ;-)


    1. Thanks Suzanne and welcome. I’ll be heading over to give your site a gander once I get a handle on my coursework ;)


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