The Fine Line of Adults in Middle Grade and YA
This is probably not the first time you’ve heard someone raise this issue. I’ve seen a large number of other writers/reviewers comment on the same—the seemingly lack of parental presence in many novels aimed at younger readers. They find it outrageous and are rather unforgiving about it. At first, I didn’t pay much attention to it, but—after receiving a review with a similar comment toward one of my books—I now feel I have to speak.
First of all, yes, in some novels, the parents aren’t as prominent as some readers would like. However, I feel there is a strong reason for that. If they were constantly present, nothing in the novel would probably happen. Kids do things, many times, for the very reason that adults aren’t around to stop them. This is something any parent knows perfectly well, but that doesn’t mean, for the sake of story-telling, we can’t display children getting away with things that they wouldn’t ordinarily get away with.
At other times, this disconnect I think is based partly on personal background. Everyone is raised by a different set of parents or parent. I had only one for the later half of my upbringing. The times my brothers and I were left alone, unattended, were enough for us to get into mischief. Single-parent homes unfortunately happen. Meanwhile, many others had both parents—sometimes overly attentive ones. This paints an entirely different view from which you might believe a household should or could be.
On top of that, some of the ones filing complaints come from different countries. Family presence and culture are extremely varied, especially when you consider the more hands-off approach of many Americans to the heavily involved mindset of many Asian families. That’s not to say some American kids don’t come from helicopter parents. They do, and the opposite can be said for many Asian families. But the point is certain areas of the world do place more value on family obedience compared to others.
Finally, it appears some of their complaints are just ill founded. I saw one reviewer complain about there being not enough parents in Holly Black’s Doll Bones. After reading it, I highly disagreed. In fact, I found the parent-child relationship to be the core issue of the book. What was even more remarkable was the same reviewer that toted adult supervision seemingly had no issues with Harry Potter where Harry, Ron, and Hermione gallivant around Hogwarts with little notion or impediment by the adults nearby, nor even cared a damn about the Narnia kids disappearing off into unknown lands without parental guidance. In both case, it seemed the illusion of an adult presence was enough, which astounds me when they find complaints in others.
I don’t have qualms with that. However, in the end, reading a story has always been suspending disbelief, and as a reviewer myself, I know that can be hard. After all, having a belief of what a story should be is the essence of being a reviewer, and reviewing is a form of subjective expression in the first place. Keeping an open mind can help, too.