I remember learning a lot about the human condition and the type of person that I wanted to be from the books I was reading in my youth. Judy Blume, Margaret Atwood, Jane Austen, Elizabeth Jolley, Isabell Allende, Jean M. Auel (don’t judge me!) – I look back and see tale after tale of strong women.
So in this blog post I wanted to see who the male equivalents are for today’s youth. Of course I know about Peeta and Gale from the Hunger Games trilogy, but I’m interested in knowing who else is out there that represent strong, inspirational ideas of masculinity.
According to this article in the LA Review, a lot of young adult fiction is about males rejecting power, success, or the other trappings of white male privilege. Like the author, I’m not sure whether this is a good thing. At the end of the Hunger Games, I was glad that Katniss and Peeta ended up together, but a bit disappointed that they went and hid out on a farm, scarred and scared by their pasts. Surely adult males can be in positions of power and be good people?
Scrolling through all of the rebuttals to the argument above in the blogosphere, which were really just endless lists of books with a male protagonist, there was a comment on this piece that encouraged me:
“Where are the examples of young men who take advantage of the social power offered them by virtue of their gender and then use it for good? I don’t think she’s saying that she wants society to revert to 19th century gender roles; she’s saying what if my kids *want* to be CEO’s or politicians? Where are the books that tell them it’s not inherently wrong to be a man in a position of social power? Where are the books that show men in these positions being kind and charitable and hardworking? (Really, though, she should have acknowledged that there aren’t many books out there that show people of any gender in power behaving well. In fiction, power usually corrupts.)”
So, perhaps the challenge is to find instances of any adults behaving well. My knowledge of YA fiction is pretty narrow – I’ve read the Hunger Games, I saw Divergent, and I love Neil Gaiman, but that’s about it. However, even in those limited texts, I can’t think of any adults that make a really good role model. Tris’s mother and father made a fairly good impression, but they were both in the Abnegation faction, again suggesting that you can’t be in a position of power and be good.
Dredging through my memories, the only positive adults in the books specifically written for teens that I can think of are the “inspirational teacher” characters – Dumbledore, Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society, etc, who are at least in positions to influence others.
For some time now, it seems that parents were either bad, absent, or dead in YA fiction, and it turns out that writing parents into YA fiction is quite tricky. However, apparently with the rise of reality fiction, present and involved parents are making a bit of a comeback. According to this article, John Greene didn’t consider parents to be important to the plot of his novels until he became one himself.
I was able to find a few more blog posts on the topic of parents in YA fiction (but surprisingly few scholarly articles) some of which are listed below. However, I’ve struggled to find anything on adults as role models in YA fiction, which is possibly more to do with my search techniques than anything else – (Adults AND Young Adult fiction seem to cancel each other out). Hopefully, some of the new “parent” characters will be three dimensional enough to have successful or at least satisfying careers, contribute to social change, and be present and supportive of their children.
Other blogs discussing the representation of parents in YA fiction:
- The Father Formula in Young Adult Fiction
- Oh, Mom! Young Adult Books Featuring a Mother/Daughter Relationship
- Are These Parents for Real? Students’ Views of Parents in Realistic and Historical Fiction