Today, the lovely Julianne from This Fleeting Dream has wrote a brilliant guest post for us today.
Families. Most of us have got them, and whether you love them, hate them, avoid them or tolerate them, they have an undeniably strong influence on your life and identity. It’s unsurprising that YA lit often features teenagers struggling to find their place as an adult within their family, or escape from their expectations and demands. Families always have some kind of effect on the protagonist’s self-perception.
They can have a positive effect, or attempt to combat negative influences from outside. For example, Colie’s mother, Kiki, in Last Chance, who tries to encourage and support her daughter. Cat’s Dad in Jumping to Confusions tells her that he thinks she is beautiful, whilst other people imply that her Mum and sister Tessa are much more attractive. In Massive, Carmen’s aunt Lisa tries to look out for Carmen.
Then there are those families who aren’t looking out for these type of problems, who just don’t realise what their child is going through and needs. Carmen’s grandparents, Riley’s dad and stepmother in Everything Beautiful, Rachel’s parents in Blood Ties. Until Curt disrupts all their lives, Troy’s father and brother don’t notice how depressed Troy has been (Fat Kid Rules The World). Leslie, from Second Star To The Right, hides her eating disorder from her parents, lying and making promises so that they don’t realise that she is starving herself.
Some of these characters inadvertently make things worse. In I Was A Teenage Fairy, Barbie’s dad expresses disapproval when her mother tries to get her into the modelling industry, but is ineffectual and eventually leaves having done nothing to help the situation, without even saying goodbye to his daughter. In Blood Ties, Rachel’s parents are always talking about her successful sister Rebecca, which makes Rachel feel inadequate.
Other families are deliberately negative, making the protagonist feel bad and think that they should be working harder to fit the ideal. Cat’s mother and sister, Carmen’s mother Maria. In The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things Virginia’s parents and brother make her miserable until she discovers that they aren’t so perfect after all, and stops wanting to please them. I love the way Virginia deals with them, asserting her own identity and telling them that she doesn’t want to go on diets anymore or hide her body away.
Some people just need to have their eyes opened, to see how much their child is hurting. But other families are just not going to change. Virginia reads some great books in The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things, but if she were real and complaining on an online forum about her parents, I would suggest she read Nobody’s Family Is Going To Change, by Louise Fitzhugh, one of my favourite recent discoveries and an incredibly perfect piece of literature. It’s not YA, the older protagonist is eleven, but the message is really powerful. Emma Sheridan wants to be a lawyer like her father when she grows up, but he doesn’t believe that women should be lawyers. Emma also loves food, and her mother is always trying to restrict her diet to get her to lose weight, because Emma is supposed to grow up, be beautiful and feminine and marry a successful man. Emma desperately wants her parents to understand her and respect her dreams, and so does her brother Willie, who wants to be a dancer. As you can guess from the title, eventually Emma realises that there is nothing she can do to change her parents’ minds, but instead of becoming sad about it, she finds strength in the facts and befriends some girls with similar problems.
What role does the family play in the books you have read for this month, or that otherwise tackle these issues? What do you think is the most realistic family that you have read about?
Thanks for the great guest post, Julianne! You heard her, what sort of families have you noticed?