Thursday, 22 May 2014

Discussion: Parents and Grandparents in YA

"I often forget I'm not so young anymore," Gemm continued. "My body is the only thing that remembers." She stroked her own cheek, kneading at the wrinkles there. "Every choice I ever made, everything I did, my body kept a record. It tells me stories, and I have to remember to listen."

Gemm touched Lo's chin again, but gently now. "Make your body strong, Lo, and it will thank you, now and when you're an old woman like me." She leaned forward, her voice urgent. "Keep it sick, and you might not live long enough for it to tell you stories."

Gemm wrapped her arms around Lo, and she surrendered, the tears and saliva from her sobs blending together on her grandmother's shoulder.

by Betsy Cornwell
My first discussion post!

So, when I read Tides by Betsy Cornwell last week (you can find my review here), I was so surprised by the presence of the grandmother of the MC. As the MC and his sister, Noah and Lo, were away from home for the summer and living with their grandmother, we didn't really get to know their parents at all, but we got to know their grandmother very well, and she was a lovely character and fairly central to the story. It got me thinking about grandparents in YA...

Well, where are they?

Apart from Tides, I cannot think of a single book I've read where the grandparents were particularly present. (I vaguely recall seeing a grandmother in Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell... I'm not sure if I'm remembering that correctly. Not sure she did much, if she was there. Oh, and there's a grandmother in The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender too, but I mean, if you've read that book you'll know it's probably quite different from the sort of thing I'm thinking of.)

I don't know what other people's experiences are like, but my grandparents are quite present in my life! My paternal grandparents, especially, who took care of me when I was little and my parents worked long hours; I see them about as often as I do my mum (not my dad, since my parents are now divorced and my dad works in Shanghai). My maternal grandma died some years ago but I still see my maternal granddad once a week when I'm back in Hong Kong.

Now, I realise that my experience is probably vastly different from most people's, but I wouldn't mind seeing more YA stories where the grandparents feature more often. It would be so refreshing! There are so many YA stories where the parents aren't around as often – why not have a grandparent step in sometimes? It might be helpful for a teenage character to hear the perspective of their grandparents instead of their parents!

While we're talking about grandparents, let's talk about parents too! Like I said, my parents are divorced, and I always like seeing divorced parents in YA. Most of the time, I can relate, and if not, I like seeing how these fictional situations might differ from my own, to see how, in some ways, I've been very lucky.

It kind of hurts me, sometimes, to see parents in YA who are still really happily together and very affectionate towards each other, but it's pleasing too, since that was something I didn't really get to see with my parents. I like being able to read about it in books, to know that yes, other people's parents do make it and live happily ever after. This seems a bit rarer in YA books, I think. A lot of books tend to deal with parents who are either divorced or who fight a lot or don't seem to like each other very much. 

Then there are the books where one parent is dead / has died recently, and that happens a lot too in YA. I suppose that creates for interesting drama and a good emotional character arc, but it's not really my favourite trope.

Of course, I know that part of the point of all the parents who are kind of out of the picture in YA is because YA stories are about growing up. The space just before adulthood, when you have to start figuring out how to be independent and how to solve problems on your own. But not all stories portray this in exactly the same way; some, like Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe do it very successfully by integrating the parents even more, and showing that as a teenager, it's time to learn to look out for your parents the way they look out for you.

I like to read about supportive parents who are interesting characters in their own right. It's always helpful to me, and I think it might also help other teens to think about their parents as real people too. It's often something we fail to do as teenagers, and I like books which remind us of that (that's why I really liked Cath's dad in Fangirl, and I love the parents in Ari & Dante). I just love books where characters have a good relationship with their parents. This is rare in YA, but when the relationship is well-written, it adds so much to the book, and it's all the more precious for being rare.

Dante and I were cursed with parents who cared. Why couldn't they just leave us alone? What ever happened to parents who were too busy or too selfish or just didn't give a shit about what their sons did?

by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

It's your turn!

Were your grandparents around much in your teenage years? (Or if you're still a teenager, are your grandparents around much?) Would you like to see more grandparents in YA?

Who are your favourite fictional parents? Is there a particular 'type' of parent/parental situation you'd like to see more of in YA? (There are so many things I haven't mentioned: stepparents, adoptive parents, parents who are same-sex couples, parents who are just never there...)

If you know about any good YA books which feature grandparents, please do let me know in the comments!


  1. My grandfathers both died when I was young and my grandmothers lived across the country, so I really only saw them for visit once a year. Still, I enjoy seeing family in YA books - parents, grandparents, etc. I totally agree with you that it seems like parents are often uninvolved in YA books, which really bugs me!

    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

  2. I'd say that I was pretty close with my grandparents when I was younger, because my mom used them for childcare a lot. But as I grew up, I began to see less and less of them, and now I don't see them very much at all, even though none of them live more than an hour away from. There's been some family drama recently, and that's the reason why I don't see 2-3 of them as often. But my other one (maternal grandmother) is just really bad at communication. Like she says that she wants to see me and will email me some dates for us to get together, but then never does. Or she'll promise to call, then won't. Sometimes it gets frustrating to have to deal with that.

    But I do like seeing active parents and grandparents in YA! I always dislike it in YA books when the parents are basically just completely absent. Like the kids can do whatever they want and they pretty much have no relationship. I feel like that's very unrealistic...I'd say that, in most circumstances, parents are a HUGE part of a teenager's life. Mine definitely were! I think Ari & Dante is a really great example of parents done right in YA. I loved those characters in that book, and enjoyed getting to see the close relationships they all had with each other developed and made integral to the story. We need more of that!

    Great post :D

  3. Betsy Cornwell23 May 2014 at 07:49

    I'm so glad Tides made you think about fictional grandparents--there really should be more of them, and they're so often interesting when they show up. I think part of the reason for that is how much they can be a conduit for coming-of-age and independence in teenage protagonists. When you get to know your grandparents as a young adult, you start to realize that the way you think of them might be different from the way your own parents think--and that your parents might even be wrong. (That's definitely what happened with Noah and Lo!)

    Also, my favorite YA grandparents have to be Sal's in WALK TWO MOONS. Oh that book. I love it as much now as I did when I was ten . . . probably more. And it still makes me cry.

  4. Great idea for a post! I lost my GPs when I was a teen, but as a kid, I spent a lot of quality time with them. And you're right - they are so rare in YA fiction...but then again, most of those teens seem to barely have parents either. Of course, you nailed the reasons for it (or for one of them being dead)...but it's just unrealistic in the long run. On the other hand, "Sweethearts" by Sara Zarr has a very cool stepfather.

  5. Thanks so much for dropping by and leaving a comment! (:

    It just really struck me when I read Tides how I never really see grandparents play a prominent role elsewhere in YA! I loved Gemm so much. (: And yeah, that's a really good point. That's definitely part of what made Tides such an interesting book, that they find out all this stuff about their grandmother that they had no idea about, and they can be so much more accepting of her than her own child was. I loved that so much, the ease with which Noah begins to think of Gemm and Maebh as his two grandmothers.

    Hmm, I will have to check out Walk Two Moons! It looks like a very moving read. I've hardly read any YA that's published before like, 2005 (when I started reading YA), this is probably something I should rectify when I can find the time to look up from my current TBR pile!

  6. It's nice to know you spent a lot of quality time with your grandparents as a kid! (: When parents aren't very present in a contemporary YA, I always feel like something's missing... Whether the relationship between the teen and their parents is good or bad, I always feel like it's something worth including and tells us a lot about the character! I've never read anything by Sara Zarr. I really should! I'll be sure to check out Sweethearts at some point. It's always nice when stepparents aren't portrayed as like the EVIL NEWCOMER WHO HAS RUINED EVERYTHING and are actually great people! (:

  7. Yeah, I live in Hong Kong but have been studying in England since I was 11. I go back to Hong Kong during the holidays and see my family then. So I don't actually see them like, ALL THE TIME, since I spend quite a lot of time in England, but when I'm in Hong Kong I see my paternal grandparents a lot.

    Seriously, YA books can definitely do with more active, present parents!

  8. That sounds so frustrating! ): My grandparents are like, the opposite of bad at communication. They all love chatting on the phone. My maternal granddad, especially, has a habit of calling people way too many times on the phone whenever he wants something. My mum's side of the family meets once a week for family dinner (I go whenever I'm in Hong Kong), and my granddad is super impatient and has a tendency to call a billion times when it's almost dinnertime to ask you WHERE ARE YOU, WHY ARE YOU LATE even though it's hardly even time yet. Also he watches the news obsessively and whenever he sees any news related to England he calls my mum being like "THERE'S A LOT OF FLOODING IN ENGLAND, IS CYNTHIA ALL RIGHT" and will keep calling even after my mum's reassured him that the floods do not affect me at all.

    I went to boarding school through my teenage years, so sometimes I totally get it when parents are absent from books, because it kind of did feel like that for me a lot of the time. But for most people who don't go to boarding school, that doesn't really seem that realistic. They're meant to see their parents practically every day! Yeah, Ari & Dante was just so great on that front. I was so moved to see how much Dante's parents grew to care about Ari and vice versa as well. That was so beautiful!

    Yay, thanks for commenting. (:

  9. I like reading about grandparents in Ya, mostly because I didn't have any when I grew up (or now even!) so I have nooo idea what it'd be like. So then I like reading about it. ;) I have fabulous parents, though. So I'm lucky! I've actually read quite a few books with grandparents, but there's always room for more! I LOVE Scarlet's grandma in Scarlet by Marissa Meyer, and oh, the grandpa in Bird by Crystal Chan. x)

  10. Good to know that your parents are so great! (: Yay, thanks for telling me about those books. I will definitely check them out! (Yeah, I haven't read the Lunar Chronicles and I really need to...)

  11. Reviews from a Bookworm24 May 2014 at 23:17

    I'd like to see more of grandparents in YA fiction too. My maternal nan was in my life a lot as a kid, I stayed over at her house at least once a week. I love going over there and it was something I loved as a kid. I still see her a lot now but not as often as when I was younger. My paternal grandmother lives further away so I only get to see her a few times every couple of months. I think we should definitely see more of grandparents in YA though. My favourite parents are probably the Weasley's from Harry Potter and the Garrett's from My Life Next Door.

  12. Yeah, I study in England but my family's in Hong Kong so I actually don't see my family all that often, but when I'm in Hong Kong I see my paternal grandparents all the time. They cook delicious food! (: When I was little, they mostly lived at our place but they also had their own place which they stayed at during weekends; I would stay over at their house every Friday night.

    Yeah, the Weasleys are so great! (: I love how busy that family was. I can't imagine what it must be like for the Weasleys having so many children; god their lives must be so difficult. Ahhh, I have yet to read any of Huntley Fitzpatrick's books, but I will definitely make sure to try them at some point! (:

  13. The only YA book I can recall with a grandparent, or one that made an impact was Bird by Crystal Chan. We need more, but also more realistic and present parents as well. Melina Marchetta is a great example of contemporaries that have a real family involvement, Looking For Alibrandi was a single patent, her daughter and the grandmother, who were both major influences in the MC's life.

    Awesome first discussion post, you're a natural and looking forward to taking part in more.

  14. Yeah, someone else mentioned Bird, I really need to check that book out! (: And now I have even more reason to finally go read some of Melina Marchetta's books. Looking for Alibrandi looks really interesting! But wow, I had no idea that book came out before I was born. I saw a really cute new cover for it on Laura Plus Books and thought it must be a fairly recent book.

    Thanks! (: I edited this post like five billion times because it kept getting too long and rambly, haha.

  15. I'm pretty close with grandparents on my dad's side, since we get to visit them a lot (one of my favorite memories is eating all this ice cream at their house while watching TV with them), but on my grandparents on my mom's side... Well, while I would still say I am close to them, I wouldn't say that we get to see each other a lot due to being half a country apart (which totally sucks). So yes, my grandparents are an important part of my life, and I think it is really great whenever I do see grandparents in YA... It isn't very often but when I pick up books like Tides, where the grandparents play a important role, I'm in love immediately and it's like the book is pulling at my heart.

    But I guess I can understand the absence of grandparents in YA. I know that for a lot of my friends, grandparents are just kind of in the background of things. Which I find a little sad but it is true... Oh, and I really, really love it whenever parents play a part in a book! My mom and I are really close and while my dad is kind of hard to access sometimes, I'm close with him too, so it's always nice to begin reading a book and see that the parents are around. I mean, I can be an airhead (my dad says I'm like a butterfly, haha) so I NEED my parents to be around.

    I've noticed that there are a lot of fighting/distant parents in YA, too. I do think they have a place in the genre, but like you, I like seeing happy parents! And whenever I read about divorced parents, the two parents are, in my experience, frequently portrayed as miserable and just don't get along at all... Which I know happens, but after reading Noggin, I am wanting to read more YA stories where the parents are divorced but are still on good terms with each other and are content.

    Deceased parents are also pretty common in YA and it's not something I like much at all either... I feel that it's often just a way to take away the complications that having parents present would bring to the teen's character mission/schemes/whatever. In recent memory, the only books that deal with deceased parents in a non-contrived way are contemporary books where the passing away of a parent is an important part of the story.

    One more thing before this ramble concludes: stepparents, same-sex parents, and adoptive parents are also types of parents I want to see more in YA. I honestly can't find any books with these types of parents in recent memory. It's true that YA books are about growing up and being independent, but parents (usually-- not everyone has present parents) play a big part in a teen's growing up and being independent... And there are tons of different types of parents-- the YA genre needs to show that more.

    Oh, and look! Recommendations: Heartbeat by Elizabeth Scott (for the well-written story about a deceased parent and it has a present stepparent), Noggin by John Corey Whaley (I'm going to be vague because of spoilers but there are divorced parents at some point), Golden Boy by Abigail Tarttelin (has a interesting take on kind-of-distant parents and shows that parents are flawed and make mistakes also), Poison by Bridget Zinn (has a mom that is a non-traditional mom), and A Very Awesome Mess (adoptive parents and a teen character that is struggling with issues that can come with being an adopted child).

    ^See how I can't come up with any books with grandparents? *cries*

  16. I have a pretty close family all round. My Nan is a huge part of my life. My Grandma not as much as she used to because she has dementia and no longer really knows who I am when I see her. Kind of hard to keep a relationship strong when she thinks I'm someone else.

    The relationships aren't anywhere near perfect and it's middle grade rather than YA, but the relationships with parents and grandparents in Bird by Crystal Chan are really interesting. Like you, I loved the relationships in Aristotle and Dante! The mother/daughter relationship in the Lux series by Jennifer L. Armentrout is really nice. The relationships between the mothers and their children in Jenny Han's Summer series are beautiful, but not so great with the fathers, if I remember rightly. I can't really think of any others. They're either not really part of the story, or they don't get on well. I find that really odd, and would definitely love to see more.

    Great discussion!

  17. I really love my grandparents, but I only see them around twice a year because they live pretty far away. But I also would love to see more of them in YA novels. Yet, then again, I kind of understand why they aren't portrayed as frequently, since the story is about the MC. Like in my life, I rarely mention my grandparents at all :/ which is probably something I should work on.

    But anyways, I love this discussion post! Parents SHOULD be portrayed even more than they are now!!!

  18. I suppose! But some stories do find the place to include grandparents, and I feel more stories can do the same! It would just be something a little different and new.

    I'm glad you like this discussion post. (:

  19. Sorry to hear about your grandma's dementia. ): I can't imagine what it would be like if one of my grandparents didn't recognise me anymore. It's nice that you have a really close family though! That must be great. (:

    Yeah, I've heard many good things about Bird! I really wanna check that book out now. Thanks for all these recommendations! I really want to read one of Jenny Han's books at some point. Ahhhh, so many books to read!

    Thanks! (:

  20. Yay, I'm glad you're close to your grandparents too! I do go to university half a world away from my family, so I don't actually see any of my family as often as might have been implied in this post. But I love spending time with my paternal grandparents especially. They love eating and we always go and have nice food together and especially at bigger family gatherings my grandmother is just super chatty and we always have such a nice time. So yeah, Tides made me so happy!

    I can't remember the last time I read a book with a deceased parent where that was actually a memorable part of the book. I only remember that year I read like three books with deceased best friends in a row (well one of them was The Sky is Everywhere which is technically deceased sibling but I mean that was almost the same thing), and I was like, "Is this a thing now?" But deceased parents... nope. I mean I know those books exist and are common but for some reason they are not coming to mind.

    I'm not actually particularly close with my parents, but I think it's for this reason that I like seeing parents who are close with their children all the more. Also, my parents are one of those divorced couples who refuse to speak to each other (well, my mum refuses to speak to my dad, since he cheated on her many times). So it's nice for me to see the happier side of the picture in fiction. Ahhh, I really want to read Noggin now that you've told me about that!

    I really need to read Golden Boy too! I haven't heard of any of these other books, but they all sound great and I need to check all of them out! You are a recommendation machine, Lesley. (:

    *cries with you* One day. One day we will have more books with grandparents!

  21. Jim - YA Yeah Yeah2 June 2014 at 22:36

    Great post! Some books which have really cool grandparents that you might enjoy.

    Blue by Lisa Glass, Trouble by Non Pratt, Have A Little Faith/Keep The Faith by Candy Harper, OMG! Is This Actually My Life by Rae Earl, Swim The Fly by Don Calame, Mist by Kathryn James, Geek Girl: Model Misfit by Holly Smale, Welcome Caller, This Is Chloe by Shelley Coriell, If I Stay by Gayle Forman. Always a plus point for me when they're there!

  22. Thanks for stopping by and for all the recs! (: I've read Blue, but not any of the other ones. I did like the presence of the grandmother in Blue.


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