The Independence Dilemma--Jan Blazanin

Teens crave independence. They argue for later curfews, weekends home alone, road trips with friends, and dating without restrictions. As a teen that’s what I wanted. But I also needed the security of knowing my parents were there when I needed them. Paying the bills. Buying the groceries. Listening—or pretending to—when I whined.

Gothic romances were popular then. Teen girls, usually orphaned under mysterious circumstances, were sent to live with eccentric, emotionally challenged relatives. Suffering from grief and loneliness, they nevertheless sneaked onto the windswept moors at midnight and explored forbidden rooms. They uncovered dire family secrets. And each herione met a dark, brooding, impossibly handsome man who was powerless against her charms. I adored those heroines and longed to have even half their spunk.

Gothic romances may be out of fashion, but teens are still looking for novels with self-reliant, risk-taking main characters. My work in progress sparked a discussion in my writing group about how much alone time to give my female protagonist. In an early draft I left her at home on her 17th birthday while her parents vacationed in the Cayman Islands. My writing friends—mothers all—thought her parents were too heartless. For the next draft, I put my MC’s dad in the hospital in another city. Mom stayed with him; daughter was sent home. They gave me a no on that idea, too. So the next draft gave the parents more ink and my protagonist less freedom.

Enter my agent who said, “Get the parents out of there! Teens like reading about teens left home alone.” Of course she was right. My audience isn’t moms or dads. It’s teens. They want to take cross-country road trips, solve mysteries, fall in love with mysterious strangers, fight wars, and rebuild worlds. Books let them experience the adventure they crave without worrying about making curfew.


  1. It's a delicate balance. I agree: I don't read YA books to follow the lives of the parents, and I was even less interested in parent characters when I was a teen. Yet the parents' absence, or relegation to the wings, has to be believable.

  2. You're right, Jennifer. That's why the parent fatalities in YA lit are so high!

  3. That's such a great last line, Jan...

  4. LOL about the advice from your critique group! My critique group harasses me if my adults ever do anything stupid, eg like believe a lie. In fact, I believe a lot of adults get distracted by the groceries and bills, and miss a lot of what goes on in their kid's lives.

  5. I agree, Lauren. And kids are experts at taking advantage of those distractions!


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