1. Great article! I’m so glad to see these points being made about storytelling and character arcs, because that really is at the heart of it. And it’s not just a modern development — think of all the fairy tales and classic (as in Victorian and Edwardian) children’s books that feature orphans or kids with absent or neglectful parents as well.

    • Thank you so much for stopping by, R.J., I’m glad you enjoyed the article! You’re so right, absent parents in stories isn’t a new phenomenon at all – orphans have been highly featured in literature for hundreds of years!

  2. J.M.Hackman says:

    Yes, the presence of parents do often create problems in coming of age stories. Because you’re right — no good parent is going to allow their child to take crazy risks! Oftentimes, the MC is given a mentor to provide a moral compass as they find their place (i.e., Dumbledore). Thanks for sharing (& the mention!)

    • Thanks, Jill! And you’re very welcome!! That’s a great point that often a mentor takes that place of a role model and guide in the absence of parents. Someone who can provide that perspective without having the authority to tell the main character she’s not allowed to go on the scary adventure 🙂

  3. Princesselwen says:

    A lot of this also depends on the age of the hero/heroine in question, as well as the setting of the novel. Because in earlier times, people often had to deal with more responsibility at a younger age than they do now. Fantasy novels set in other worlds often hark back to those times. So a 15 or 16-year-old in a fantasy world could very well be doing a lot more than a real-world teen would be allowed to do, because their parents and society already see them as adults. There could be dramatic tension around the child growing into an adult role.
    Other ways of getting around this are: The adventurous kid who sneaks off and gets involved in the plot without parental permission. (Most recent one I’ve read and enjoyed: the 1st 2 of David Weber’s Stephanie Harrington novels.)
    The whole family has superpowers, and they have to work together to stop the villain. (The Incredibles. In literature, the Abhorsen series.)
    Similar to the boarding school example: Parents send kids somewhere safe, adventure ensues. (Narnia, also Alan Garner’s The Weirdstone of Brisingamen ).
    Parents send kid somwhere they think is safe, kid makes his own adventure (Lois Bujold’s The Warrior’s Apprentice. Though that’s pushing it a bit since he’s 17.)
    Adventures happen, but due to the kid’s powers, he’s the only one of his family who can really know what’s going on (The Dark is Rising.)
    With The Hunger Games, Katniss was also already estranged from her mother due to the latter’s depression following her father’s death, (and due to her having to support her family, she was also very self-reliant.)
    So to sum up a long rambling post, whether the protagonist has parents around, and what their relationship is like depends very much on the kind of story you want to tell.

    • Thank you so much for stopping by, these are great thoughts! You’re right that in the past teenagers were often treated more like adults, which is an advantage to many authors writing YA fantasy in historical settings. I have to admit as a parent I don’t personally like the idea of the kid running off without permission, but it can make for a great story! I haven’t read The Dark is Rising, but now I’m intrigued! And you’re right that Katniss was estranged from her mother in The Hunger Games, but that event also pulled children away from families that were much more closely-knit. I love your summary – in the end it really depends on what story the author wants to tell!

      • Princesselwen says:

        True, other tributes had better relationships with their parents (Like Rue, for instance).
        In the Stephanie Harrington example, she did get grounded for sneaking out. And while she does move into a role with more responsibility, she also has good relationships not only with her parents, but with other supportive adults as well. So as the story goes on, there’s a nice balance between Stephanie (and other teens) with important jobs, who still have sympathetic adults to help them when they need it. (And she also has a bond with an alien cat who is extremely protective of her, so he lessens the danger as well.)

  4. Autumn Grayson says:

    People probably forget how much setting plays a part in this. If someone is writing a book that takes place in ancient times, or in a warsome, plague filled era, etc. then there’s bound to be lots of orphans and perhaps disfunctional families. And in those situations, even if a person has two loving parents, there may not be any choice except for the child to take on an enormous amount of responsibility and danger at a young age. So, even if the orphan thing is a trope, it’s a trope that can make sense and even be necessary for realism.

    One way to approach all this is to make fighting and danger a part of the culture. If the children have to learn to fight from a young age, then it may be a normal part of their school routine, etc. to go off and have adventures separate from their parents. Naruto and Naruto Shippuden are great examples of this. Many of the chars are orphans suffering under hard conditions, but many others did have loving supportive parents that show up and influence the plot heavily. Even so, their children are off adventuring for most of the plot, since in their culture it is normal for children to graduate the ninja Academy at the age of twelve and start going on missions. Having this as a culture is actually very fascinating in this story, especially when we learn how the ninja villages got started and such. (Before the villages got started, the world was so full of war that children were forced to fight and die even at ages as young as 8, so being able to enjoy their childhood for the first 12 years before being sent on missions is a vast improvement in the quality of their life) This story does a good job of subtly questioning and exploring the effects of children having to fight so early, though, unlike the average kid show that has young protagonists fighting the bad guys merely to appeal to their young target audience. So maybe in a way it helps when the author actually acknowledges and explores why children are going on these dangerous adventures instead of it just being there for no reason.

    • Thank you so much for your comments, Autumn! You’re right that setting plays a huge role, and that some societies naturally had a large number of orphans due to living conditions, disease, or other forces. I’m not familiar with Naruto, but it sounds fascinating! I love the idea of exploring the ramifications of a culture in which children are encouraged to go off and fight at a young age – what a perfect way to write for a younger audience while adding deeper meaning!

      • Autumn Grayson says:

        Yep 🙂 Naruto seems silly at first, and there’s parts of it that aren’t so great, but stick with it and it becomes a truly amazing and deep show.

  5. I’ve noticed this too. I even saw some people complaining and thinking that the lack of parents was some liberal agenda. (These complaints come from people who don’t know anything about writing.) It takes quite a bit of creativity to have kids with parents that are still alive and decent.
    I did a blog post on this a while back, then I mentioned creative ways writers get around the parent problem, such as kidnapping them, making them villains, or having them play a role.

    • Autumn Grayson says:

      Now that I think about it, the Lion Boy Trilogy by Zizou Corder did a decent job of including the parents. Both of them were fun chars and from what I recall, actually made efforts to get back to their son and were even the ones having to save him at one point. Have you ever read that series?

    • Thank you so much for your comment, Jessi! It does take a lot of creativity to write kids that have present, loving parents, which I think is the culprit much more often than a liberal agenda 🙂 I checked out your blog post and really enjoyed it – I hadn’t thought of the villain option!

  6. Kathleen Eavenson says:

    And then there’s Sharon Hinck’s Restorer/Deliverer series which features a good ‘normal’ family involved with ‘trips’ to a fantasy planet where various members of the family become the fighting heroes, all heading different directions: there’s the middle-aged mother who *is* the Restorer (how rare is that??); her husband who’s a warrior with a secret, and their eldest son who gets dragged into it too.

What do you think?