We’ve talked before about parents and other adults being absent in YA and MG literature. But whether or not parents are present in a novel, they greatly affect the composition of the main character. In fact, parents might just be the most important element in creating deep characters for YA and MG novels. Here are a couple of examples of how main characters are defined by their parents’ influence:
The Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins)
Why is Katniss a hardened huntress destined for success in the arena? Because her mother is practically cataonic with grief over her father’s death and her family’s suffering. It’s up to Katniss to find food for her family, a responsibility that both forces Katniss to find skill in hunting and leaves her emotionally hardened. Since her mother’s mental absence also leaves Katniss in charge of caring for a younger sister, it’s no surprise Katniss comes to serve as protector to a young girl (Rue) in the arena. So Katniss’s defining traits stem mostly from the role her mother has played (or failed to play) in her life.
Feed (M. T. Anderson)
We can easily understand why Titus, the main character of Feed, is a shallow, fun-seeking consumer so immature as to deem the entire planet of Jupiter “stupid” after he travels there on vacation: he is a mirror of his society. But the picture becomes even more clear every time Titus’s dad pops into the story because we see that his dad is just as shallow. He uses words like dude and girlf and says things like “Do you know how inefficient trees are, next to an air factory?”
Contrast him with Violet’s father. Violet is quite different from all the other teens in the book, mostly because she had her feed (an internet connection in the brain) installed relatively late in her childhood. She uses a larger vocabulary and tries to fight the constant barrage of materialism from her feed. Once we meet her father, a professor who has only a homemade feed and uses phrases like “observe the remarkable verdure,” Violet’s character becomes even more understandable. Her father tries to speak “only in irony” so his words can’t be simplfied–his way to preserve what he feels is a dying language; Violet tries to confuse her feed by creating complicated, unpredictable spending patterns. They are two of a kind.
Which characters in YA and MG literature do you see as being defined by their parents’ influence? Or have I overstated the importance of parental influence in creating deep characters?