Taking off the parent hat

Most YA literature is written by adults for teens. There are exceptions: teen authors, adult readers. But YA literature is generally rooted in a teen perspective. That’s what makes it YA.

Which means that parents are usually secondary characters. Sometimes they’re even the bad guys. (I understand Barry Lyga has a new book out about the son of a serial killer, if you want a really extreme example!)

But even when the parental characters in a book are loving and understanding and responsible and present, the story isn’t all about them.

And writers can’t parent their YA characters. We can’t protect them from their own mistakes. Sometimes we have to let characters do things we would never want our own children to do. Characters have to make mistakes and experience conflict because that is the essence of fiction. A character who never gets in trouble and does everything s/he is supposed to is a boring character with no room for change or growth.

In Sarah Darer Littman’s newest novel, Want to Go Private? a young girl gets involved with a man she meets online. I heard Ms. Littman talk about this book, and how protective she felt of her character, and how difficult it was to have her character make very bad choices—but it was necessary to the story she was telling.

When we write, rather than parent, our characters, we show how their stories play out as honestly as we can. We show the side of characters that their parents may not even know. We do this so real teens (often with the help of their real parents) can see the consequences of actions, without some interfering author jumping in to save the day.


  1. I love that statement about how we can't parent our characters! Sometimes, you've just got to cringe and let your characters screw up...

  2. Wonderful post, Jennifer! I like YA books that include parents to some degree, but sometimes the story just doesn't call for them. I love how you say writers can't parent the teen characters. So, so true!

    1. We can't save our characters; they must save themselves. ;-)

  3. Interesting, thought-provoking post. Good point. :)


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