Monday, December 05, 2005

Teens & Nursing Homes

Suzi over at Words, words, words has posted a review of Shrimp and asks, "What is UP with the whole nursing home trope? Seems to be a common thing now. Do YA writers think Oh, my character isn’t very deep; perhaps, as a teen, s/he needs to connect with an older person as her/his parents aren’t providing enough guidance? Not saying that I wouldn’t do that; just wondering if that’s why all of the nursing home characters keep appearing."

Other YA that has teens/ nursing home: Storky by Debra Garfinkle. I know there are a couple of others, but my mind is a blank. Plus, there are books like Criss Cross and Prom, where teens help older neighbors who probably should be in nursing homes.

Suzi points out one reason for this: the idea of an adult, not a parent, giving guidance. Another reason: diversity of age. Also, seniors and teens have the commonality of not being treated with the respect they want, being unnecessarily babied. If you can think of other reasons -- or other titles where the teen helps out/ gets involved with a senior citizen -- please post in the comments. I think its a good question.

But here is my big question, inspired by Suzi: why, in all these books, is the senior citizen not related to the teen? This seems especially odd in this day and age, when more people are living longer, so today's teens, more so than previous generations, have living grandparents and great-grandparents.

5 comments:

Chris Barton said...

"Why, in all these books, is the senior citizen not related to the teen?"

Grandparents and great-grandparents are indeed living longer, but since WWII Americans are more mobile than they used to be and are more likely to spend their adulthood (and thus their kids' childhood) some distance from where previous generations live(d).

Mary Pearson said...

I find this discussion fascinating. I have a manuscript I have been working on and off for years. I love this story--but it is not ready for publication--yet. And it is all set in a nursing home. My reasons for the whole nursing home was the "commonality and lack of respect" that you mentioned. Yes, some wisdom comes from the older folks, but some comes from the teens too in regard to how the older folks are treated. I loved that these older folks and teens were on the two ends of not being able to make decisions about their own lives.
But in regard to your "big" question, I don't have an answer. Indeed, in my story, none of the four main teens are related to any of the four main nursing home characters. I thought it was simply the way the situation was set up, but maybe it is that none of the teens were emotionally invested in the older characters at the start and this way relationships had a chance to develop? Developing relationships is the fun part of writing.

Debby Garfinkle said...

I wish I could tell you why I created Duke, the old man in the nursing home, in STORKY. He just appeared. It really wasn't a concious decision on my part.

Originally, he didn't show up until halfway through the book. But my agent and my critique group members really liked him, and my agent suggested using him to create a "throughline" character for Mike to learn from and to show Mike's growth. So I revised STORKY to give Duke a much bigger role

I was extremely close to my grandmother, even living with her for a few years in my twenties. When I wrote STORKY she was dying, so I probably subconciously based Duke after her.

I also didn't consciously set out to have Duke not related to STORKY. But I think when a character is not related, there is more chance for the protagonist to have one-on-one time with that character and to pour his heart out to him about family problems and other problems. It's like having an impartial therapist you can tell anything to.

I consciously made Mike's grandmother a nasty character. I wanted him to realize that parents can be bad people (for instance Nate's alcoholic mother and Mike's critical grandmother), but that doesn't mean their children are not worthy people. Obviously, I wanted Mike to apply this knowledge to his relationship with his father.

Thank you for thinking about my novel!

Suzi said...

Wow, thanks for linking to my blog. :-) Um, what was I thinking of? Of course I had Storky in mind (and thanks to Debby for posting about her process). Not totally a nursing home, but there is the book group in Honey, Baby, Sweetheart, and in Gail Gauthier's Saving the Planet & Stuff, the main character goes to live with and work for people who are friends and contemporaries of his grandparents (his grandparents are also ungenerous). In both Valerie Hobbs' recent Defiance and, of course, A Room on Lorelei Street, an elderly woman provides home/space/wisdom that relatives don't provide. (But I KNOW I had other nursing home plots in mind--I'll think about 'em and get back to you!)

Liz B said...

Thaks for all the cool responses!

I like Mary's point about being able to develope a new relationship between 2 people. In meeting and getting to know someone new, its such a blank slate. It can help us decide who we really are, and for teens, it can be a chance to show their "true self" rather than the surface. Plus, its a good device because the reader is getting to know the characters at the same time as the characters themselves.

Debby's point ties in well with Chris's, because I was thinking, well, what about the grandparent you didn't know well being introduced? Because as Debby brings up, the grandparent is not impartial. And the teen & the story demand the impartial older person.

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