In the presence of a responsible adult

Finally, a lie too big. Gif found here, and presumably copyright BBC

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:




2 thoughts on “In the presence of a responsible adult

  1. I very clearly remember my first lecture of a leadership subject I was doing as part of my Masters. It was the very first lecture of the very first subject that I had attended since completing my degree nearly 20 years earlier. We were discussing the role of leaders in a school and a very young fresh faced man who had never taught was sitting in amongst the ‘flag waving’ feminists loudly protesting about how awful it was for women in leadership! OMG! I nearly died laughing and in fact created enough of a noise that the lecturer turned to question me on my opinion. I pointed out that yes women had it tough however I had 2 young men in my grade 12 class who had never (yep NEVER) had a male teacher! In all the years and subjects at school they had never had a single male teacher! Where are their role models? Like you Vanessa, I headed to an area I felt comfortable, a world of books.
    I am fortunate to have a daughter of a similar age to the boys (well she’s a smidge older but had been there much closer than I had) and who is an avid reader. She had frequently asked if she could borrow some of my books, any would do as she’d read everything she had. She did suggest that she could read the ‘Bones’ series by Kathy Reichs however I was concerned about the content being to in depth for her in her late teens. Not too long after this conversation Reichs released the first in her Virals series. A crime series aimed directly at the young adult literature (YAL). The protagonist is a young girl that is the niece of Temperance Brennan of the Bones series. So it meet perfectly the need for a book series similar to what I was reading however didn’t meet the criteria of a male role model. Not long after I discovered the Maximum Ride series by James Paterson, another amazing series similar to the adult version and yep another with a strong female lead however this one does have a good male role model as her friend. Both of these have relationships with adults that don’t have the dystopian setting of other series such as the Tomorrow series by John Marsden. Whilst Marsden’s series is dystopian it does have the benefit of being linked to a movie which may help to get young male readers involved.
    The wonderful thing about all of this is that whilst male role models appear to be limited in some areas of modern YAL (there’s plenty in the classic literature) there seems to be an unlimited supply of series being written to attract young readers and that can only be good!.


  2. Hi Vanessa,

    What an interesting topic. I have been an avid reader since I first held a Harry Potter book. It was my lifeline because when I was young, I was terrible at reading and I was completely disinterested but then came HP. I was reading through your blog trying to think of strong and good men but I like you thought of Dumbledore. I know Hagrid is often portrayed as not knowing enough but to me, Hagrid was a force to be reckoned with. He is strong and good. He is a man that would do anything for anyone. It just a shame he lives in fiction. It is very hard to find anyone who gains power but has the ability to retain humility, compassion and understanding. You are right when you say that there are not enough male role models in YA fiction. It seems that we have segued into culture that promotes independence and the ability to rise above oppression. That is what I seem to see, especially with dystopian fiction.

    Nice blog by the way ☺




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