Sunday, October 11, 2009

Teenagers Today

Ah, weekends. When I can catch up on reading posts. So, first I read Riddle Me This: The Crappy Parents in YA at lurv a la mode and then I read Angieville's response, The Parents of YA.

Much food for thought there and it got me thinking.

My thoughts?

Originally, I was going to do a long post about how since these are books for teens, the point of the books isn't how the adults are presented. Coming of age, autonomy, helicopter parents, some parents are crappy, storytelling devices, point of view, unreliable narrators, history of YA, books with good parents, it's not about the adults, what teens want, why must YA books be about a message/moral/teaching, etc yadda yadda yadda. It was a pretty good post, if I do say so myself.

But then I started thinking about how come adults are like "OMG I cannot believe how adults are in these books" and it got me wondering. Do teenagers ever complain about how teens are depicted in adult books?

Teenagers in some adult books can be complainers; whiners; secretive; combative; antagonistic; immature; demanding; sullen; troublemakers; difficult; unreasonable. From the adult point of view of these books, the tone can be "look, I've done my best as a parent, and look what I have to deal with!"

Teenagers often read adult books, even though they're written for adults. I wonder if they are bothered by how teens are depicted in these books? I remember liking when an author like Stephen King had teenagers realistically depicted; but I think I just ignored those cases where a teen was a plot device in the parent's lives.

Amazon Affiliate. If you click from here to Amazon and buy something, I receive a percentage of the purchase price.

© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy


Keri said...

I don't know how teenagers feel but when I read Certain Girls by Jennifer Weiner I thought that the teen character was often either too young or too old in the way she talked and acted. She won me over in the end, but the first few chapters made me think she should have checked out a few YA books before trying out the viewpoint.

Melissa said...

I can't remember what I felt like when I was a teenager, but I do know that right now I'm really sensitive to the way kids are portrayed in adult novels. It actually bugs me more if an author doesn't get a kid right than one who short changes adults (though I do cringe at all the bad mother portrayals). No answers to why that is, though.

Michelle said...

I think I saw it said in response to the Lurvalamode posting that many times teens are living out fantasies through the pages of these books so they aren't necessarily looking for a lot of parental interaction in many cases. I believe that to be true to some extent. I believe, like adults, kids are reading to escape and get away from what they percieve to be their problems and like it or not parents are a big part of that.

As an adult reading adult novels with children in them I can't say I've paid all that much attention to portrayal though likely will now that the question has been posed.

tanita✿davis said...

That's actually a really good question! In my writing group with one particular member it is sometimes a knock-down, drag-out fight to get her to stop criticizing how other people (without kids) handle parents -- she gets very hot under the collar about how there should be "more" to the parent's story, and we're constantly at odds because I agree: it's NOT about the parents. But definitely, I've felt in reading adult books that the teens come across at times as unreasonably sullen or conveniently silent -- and easy to move around, like they do in soap operas. I'm always leery of heroines who have kids, but they never have to drive carpool or bring cupcakes or go on field trips or sit through performances. That's definitely not normal.

Liz B said...

keri & melissa, i kind of threw it out there with vague recollections of sullen angry boy & nympho teen daughters in books who are there just to show what saints the parents are with having to deal with such ungrateful children.

michelle, In all honesty, my initial reaction to an adult complaining about how adults are portrayed in a childs/young adult book is a very short "but it's not all about you. the books isn't there to reassure you that you are the best! parent! ever! and it isnt't there to show your kids that all families are exactly like yours."

My initial post was really tl;dr (too long, didn't read) as I got into issues of teen autonomy, coming of age, making ones own decisions, crappy parents existing even tho they wouldn't recognize themselves in the mirror, helicopter parenting, real world v idealized world, teen books once again having to have the right message (which got me wondering about how teens are portrayed in books for adults), and also that teens want and fear independence from parents so often books play into that twin desire.

as for babies in books, I'm not a fan of the messiah baby; in other words, someone has a baby and now live is perfect from the sheer existence of the child.

Liz B said...

tanita, what's funny is that i love a well developed parent. I just don't think the parent needs to be "good" and if the parent is doing x, i want a believable motive. it just should not be at the expense of the teen characters; and is usally best done with a handful of sentences. in HUSH HUSH, mom is largely absent because she is beginning a career. in HUGGING THE ROCK, mom is mentally ill. that's all i need.

KMont said...

That post was an interesting discussion. Interesting in the sense that people assumed I was trying to "make it all about me" or parents in general, and just all the other similar reactions. I was glad I asked the question but frustrated at the assumptions that were abounding as well.

It was really just meant to be a discussion - themes such as the "bad" parent are so prevalent in YA I've been reading lately, so I thought why not question it within the context of the fiction it fits into. It was surprising to see the misunderstandings as to my original post pop up which led me to think that I bungled what I was trying to say pretty bad.

Liz B, you sum it up great though here when you say "believable motive". This is it. That's the key - only what is believable will of course differ from person to person. The examples I'd brought up to me weren't believable within the books they were found, but they obviously worked well enough for others.

As for how kids are presented in adult books, also a great point; I've not usually been too impressed with this scenario either. Much more so with the kids in adult books, really. Too often they only seem there for some kind of shock value, a convenient road to a dangerous plot conflict. Rarely do they seem to be given a real voice (in what I've read anyway). The book that really went there with adolescent characters recently for me was On the Edge by Ilona Andrews. The two little brothers were integral to the book and really impacted it.

Sorry for the long comment. I'm glad even if my original post was frustrating it got others to think about things. Have a great day.

Liz B said...

kmont, i think the whole "bad" label also comes into play. what is meant by "bad"?

in CRAZY/BEAUTIFUL, there is a great caring father who is a widower, and when I read some of the "way parents are portrayed" posts/comments (talking broadly, not your post, etc), as widower, he clearly would not be a "good" parent, regardless of fresh squeezed oj, pancakes, and a good relationship with his daughter.

HUSH HUSH, for example. I found it believable that a parent with an older teen daughter, newly widowed, would be concentrating on restarting a career to pay her bills. she kept in touch with her child via phone calls and ensured some supervision with a housekeeper. i found it believable in the book; but also, to be honest, i know that is also a real-life situation. parents have to work, and often that work takes them away; and also? parents want to work and often believe that teens are old enough to be unsupervised. so, no, i don't see her as a bad mother; and i found her absense believable. but then, i see parents who have to make that choice (work or home?) and had a parent who also made that choice, so to see it in a book doesn't raise any issues for me. so yes, i brought a mix of real-life and what was said in the book in my response to that.

sometimes there is also a bit of an unreliable narratorness going on. are the parents as the narrator portrays? are the parents in SPEAK that out of touch, or is it the main character's depression that influences what she tells us and doesn't tell us? and how often is that true of teens in general who may need much more maturity than a book allows to see their parent thru much more realistic eyes?

i have just begun SHIVER so cannot say yet what i feel about the portrayal of the parents.

as i commented above, what I prefer more than "bad", "good" "crappy" etc is a parent that is believable. a cookie-making mom that never leaves the kitchen (SLEEPING FRESHMEN NEVER LIE) bothers me, despite her being "good" under some peoples definitions (married, involved, etc.)

Angiegirl said...

Glad you joined the discussion, Liz! I hope I didn't indicate that only a 2-parent household equaled a "good" one in my post, as I don't believe that at all. I'm, like KMont, also a mother who works and that choice is a whole nest of emotions and motivations I. :) I was simply trying to mention a few instances in books I'd read where there happened to be two parents who were largish characters in the novels. Like I said and you point out, there are so many where there are one excellent parent. And many more when they're present on the periphery.

And you're right that the point isn't about the parents at all. I just thought it would be an interesting exercise (in light of the discussion over at Lurv) to try to find a few where the teen-parent relationship felt real and complex to me. I read and love fantasy and certainly don't go into all my books expecting or even hoping for reality (or parents!). But occasionally it's fascinating to me to read a really superb characterization of the three-way dynamic between a young adult and two parental figures engaged in their life. It's all my opinion of course if it feels real or not but the discussion has been interesting food for thought.

Liz B said...

book people do love talking books, don't they?

I also am intrigued by words, our definitions, and what people need and want from a book and when that is singular (just that reader) versus universal (more than that reader).

so here -- good. bad. crappy. is Bella's mother really crappy for having been a loving, present all the time mother for sixteen years and then, with full agreement of her child, supporting her husband's career choice? i'm not a twilight fan, but i think bella moving with her father is her choice and part of what i did like in book 1 was the father/child who had had no relationship trying to re-establish one.

teens have their own lives; they have their own books; i like how you pointed out that no, not all parents are absent/distant/neglectful etc with your post (and it was why i added as many titles as i could think of this morning, to show yep, all kinds of parents in books). and there really is a variety of parents in teen books -- just like any other books.

tho if i'm not limited to two parent heterosexual couples, i can add more books to your list!

as an adult who reads and enjoys ya (and not just because of work!) i admit to being fascinated by adult readers response to ya, including the "what about the parents" which is seen frequently from parents, and truthfully, i think is more of a unique reader reaction than a universal one - in other words, more about the reader than the book itself. instead of saying, "why is the parent like this," I guess my question becomes -- assuming the situation/ character is believable -- why does it matter to the adult reader that the parent IS like "this"?

Bethany Grace said...

I think that any consistent reader gets annoyed with the easy stereotypes applied to characters, but teenagers are especially sensitive to being portrayed as one big emotional mess of uncontrollable adolescents. I know I always was (a few years ago). When an adult novel portrayed the teenager as unmanageable and bursting with unpredictable mood swings, I would automatically assume that the author had fallen into that too common mistake due to little interaction with real teenagers and/or a bad habit of watching too many sitcoms.

KMont said...

Well, I'm once again surprised that my, or any adult really, wanting to discuss what I'd come to see as a common theme in YA books that I've read recently and in the last few years is seen by others as more a reflection on "me". I honestly don't get that. I have nowhere to go with it at this point except that I had no clue being an adult and discussing such a topic would pigeonhole me into such a strange place book discussion-wise.

I've certainly seen other adults who are not parents wonder about parental characters that aren't really dealt with in a believable manner. So, yep, I continue to be confused as to how the topic could say more about "me" or whichever adult is discussing it. It's no different to me than a young adult questioning some themes in adult-themed books. I would definitely expect and encourage a teen or preteen to come to anyone, whether teens themselves or adults, and discuss anything that sticks out to them.

As for Bella's mother - she is also described by Bella prior to Bella's moving in with her father as flighty and therefore not really "all there" - the impression I got from her being flighty.

I'll only add that Bethany's comment range true with me, as making parents out to be bad in some light (and by bad, I thought I was pretty clear in my original post when I cited some examples - again, those were just subjective opinion and I realize they won't gel with others sometimes) feels at times like an easy stereotype.

Liz B said...

i guess where we disagree is what in a book is "disbelievable," and whether it hinges on what is in the book or what the reader wishes were in the book. some of the parent/adult response to these books falls more under "I would not do this, thus it is unbelievable" rather than what is in the book.

KT Grant said...

I guess I look at it this way, if the parents were so into their teens business, there would be no story. When I was a teen, my parents knew where I was and who I was with, but then again I didn't have a vampire or fallen angel stalking me or any super powers to fight crime.

In Twilight Charlie is a concerned parents, but again he is a single parents. He doesn't like Edward and tells Bella so and when Edward comes to see him, he has the shot gun ready (love that scene in the movie) Edward is very respectable to Charlie. I also love the parent dynamics with the Cullens.

I read Shiver and Grace's parents annoyed me because they were just so too involved into themselves and Grace was so upset by their ho hum attitude towards their daughter. I find it strange that they never knew at Grace had Sam in her bedroom. Their house wasn't that huge. But again if they knew about their daughter's extra curricular activities, the story would have stopped right there.

I guess since YA books are a great fantasy for children and teens where they can do what they want without mom and dad watching them.

I would love to see a YA book where either mom and dad team up with their children to fight crime and whatnot. But then again when I read Nancy Drew, Nancy went off with her friends and dad didn't think it strange and those books are over 50 years old.

I must stop my ramblings... LOL

Angiegirl said...

We certainly each bring a different set of experiences and expectations to each book. But I don't know. I don't think I judge parents in books based on if I would make the same decisions they do. My favorite ones are wildly different from myself. And the majority of my favorite depictions are single parents. The ones in my post, as I said, exceptions for having two. And I'd welcome any more you have to the list, Liz! No limits to just hetero couples, though for the purposes of that post I was looking for twofers. :)

I don't think Bella's mom was a bad mom at all. Flighty, as KMont says, hell yes. But definitely present and loving. And I still love that Bella chose to leave and stay with her dad. It showed independence and presence of mind and a love for her mom, which I think the reader feels as genuine throughout the books.

But I do have to buy a character. Whether or not "believable" is the word we want to use or not. I need to connect with them somehow if they have an impact on the main character's life and/or have influenced them in some important way. It should be pointed out that other side characters can fall short just as easily, if not moreso, than parental characters, particularly friends, teachers, or co-workers.

Hm. Maybe I need to do a post on sidekicks now...

As to why it matters, I've been thinking about this lately. I re-read a lot. As a result I get to see how my reaction changes or evolves over time as my phase in life changes and I think it worthwhile observing those changes and what I noticed as a teen and what I notice or find myself pondering as an adult, and sometimes as a mother. Our observations change and one of the most beautiful bits about being a reader to me.

Liz B said...

the age when we read something can definately factor into something; half of high school reading, at least, is read differently five, ten, fifteen years later (and some would argue, reading it too early isn't a good a thing.) what we bring to a book does matter -- what I would find unbelievable at 14 I may now find all too real; and what I wholly fell for in a book at 14 I may dismiss as so much crap today.

believable (realistic? fully formed? three dimensional?) secondary characters can make a big difference in a book -- often, for me, elevating the book from "Meh" to great. tho to argue with myself, not all other character deserve that much ink in a book.

tanita✿davis said...

Wow, good chat!

Liz, I totally agree -- and always try to actually include parents with LIVES and motives and fully roughed out personalities, even when writing about teens. I think that's important. I definitely don't read enough adult fiction to know if it's always something adult authors do, however.

And I like what you say about the Messiah baby. I don't like Sacrificial babies, when women in novels get pregnant and the author makes kids save a marriage or make stiff in-laws suddenly melt. That's fallacious fiction, with no basis in real life at all.

Maggie Stiefvater said...

Yay! blog reader present for me! I love this discussion -- I saw kmont's post originally and was intrigued.

I have two thoughts on this

1) yeah, it's a trope. YA parents in books tend to be uninvolved for a reason, to put the teen protags in charge of their own fates. Great parents have to be either kidnapped (hellllo Meg/ Wrinkle in Time) or killed off. Though I don't think I made Dee's parents in Lament bad -- they're just super way too involved in her life. And James has great parents in Ballad, but he's helpfully at a school where they are useless to him. I really have no problem as an adult reading around absent/ bad parents in YA because I appreciate that we're not seeing the norm necessarily: we're seeing why this teen character is now the protagonist instead of a secondary character.

2) Why the heck do adults seem to read YA and regard themselves as a different species? Did you notice how they always phrase it? "Reading this as an adult, I cannot believe how horribly adults are portrayed." As if they personally are somehow being lumped into this degradation of the adult race. Adults and teens are both PEOPLE. People of all ages are fallible and make terrible decisions, selfish choices, incorrect plans . . . parents are not excepted. And take those choices from a teen's POV and you'll often have a parent that looks worse than they really are, especially in first person.

And honestly, the parent question isn't one that bothers me. Let's talk siblings. Did you notice that there is a statistically improbably number of only children amongst YA protags?