Monday, June 27, 2011

Empowering Kids and Teens

For our anniversary we went to see Super 8 this weekend (and yes, that is what old marrieds do on their anniversary).  Anyway, it was awesome, as I suspected it would be considering the inimitable JJ Abrams was involved (yes, I am a fan girl).  It lead to a great discussion about kid empowerment in movies.  You know what I mean -- movies that show kids can save the day too and go on adventures.  Think The Goonies or Harry Potter.  And, of course, this got me thinking about books and YA (as does every conversation I have these days).

There's been some debate over the missing parent syndrome in a lot of YA and MG books.  Parents are either off on the sidelines, seemingly blissfully unaware their daughter's boyfriend is a vampire (seriously, gold eyes and deathly cold skin - wake up Charlie!), or dead, see Harry Potter and a dozen other books popping into my head at the moment.  And a lot of people chock this up to being a plot convenience.  To an extent it is (lot easier to run around with vampires and werewolves if dad's out fishing all the time), but part of the reason parents are a bit more absent is that these are stories about wish fulfillment.  Who doesn't want to save the world, or be swept into a smokin' hot romance with the ultimate bad boy, or solve mysteries?  In order to achieve wish fulfillment in books, we have to empower kids.  We have to send them off to magical boarding schools or give them busy-career driven parents or just create a world with a little less parental oversight than might be realistic.

But isn't that the point of fiction -- to create a safe space where we can explore and experience whole worlds both real and fantastical.  So while as a mother I'm concerned over the mortality rate I'd risk in the fictional world, I get it.

*P.S. I seem to be channeling William Goldman with the parenthesis today -- sorry.  (Wait, William Goldman is awesome.  You're welcome.)


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  2. We do have to empower kids. But some wonderful stories stories manage to do that with kids that also happen to have a fairly stable home life. Like in Savvy, in which the main character has both parents, but then her father is severely injured and she runs off to save the day.

  3. So agree with this. I think that's why there are so many boarding school stories even though most kids don't go to them.

  4. I should clarify that I'm speaking specifically to the criticism of books that don't have stable home life depictions. Also, to play devil's advocate, Rebecca, her dad is injured and she has to the save day sort of falls into the realm of empowering kids by removing a parent from the actions. However, I'm not familiar with that novel, so I can't really say that's how it plays out.

  5. That's a really great point, Genn. I hadn't thought of the parallel to YA parenting when watching Super 8, but it's certainly there. And btw - I agree, it was fantastic.

    But, let's think about it for a second - is the absent parent such a new-fangled thing? Hmm.... The Goonies, anyone?

  6. I LOVED Super 8. I know kids are drawn to stories where the young heroes aren't bogged down with parental restraints like, "Clean you room before you save the world."

  7. How did I miss this post, and the awesome William Goldman reference?

    So true about the parents, it is so hard to write a convincing story with the parents fully involved. So ironic, since I am a overprotective mom myself. My kids would never get away with any of this stuff!