Parents are a problem.
At least, parents are a problem in young adult fiction. They’re dead, like Harry Potter’s, or they’re dysfunctional, like Bella Swan’s, or they’re off concocting their own apocalyptic plans, like Shinji Ikari’s. And frankly, teenagers’ relationships to the adult world don’t come off that well either: see Holden Caufield or Allison in The Breakfast Club, two of the highly slappable characters from my youth. (John Hughes, I like you normally, and will forgive the ickier-in-retrospect bits of Sixteen Candles, but: “When you grow up, your heart dies?” Beee-yarf.)
I got along fairly well with my parents. I was a demon-child, yes, and I’m still not sure why they didn’t drown me in a boot, but the demon-child-ness was largely a result of acting on impulse and having a younger sister whose hair occasionally really needed cutting. I never went through the Rent-esque “hating dear old mom and dad” phase and, in fact, most of the kids I knew growing up didn’t.
There are absolutely horrible parents out there, of course. I’ve heard stories, and I’ve seen things, that I wouldn’t wish on anyone. But most people? We had some fights, we exchanged some words, but most of us didn’t do the “black nail polish and rejecting everything they stood for, yet wanting them to show us more attention” thing.
At the same time, when you’re writing a YA adventure novel, parents are definitely an obstacle. If they don’t know about Woogy Magic Crap, you have to keep it secret, unless you want half of the novel to be about them finding out and dealing with it, and the inevitable conflict between keeping your kids safe and saving the universe. (Diane Duane does this one very well, by the way.) If they do know, you have to provide a reason why they don’t take over, because as any twelve-year-old knows, the thing your parents do is take over before you can do anything cool.
I love my parents, but from six to eighteen, they’re basically The Reason You Can’t Have Fun. They make you go to school and do long division. They don’t let you jump on the bed. They take issue with the really fun video games, or the movie with the awesome trailers where some guy gets stabbed with a shrimp fork. They have really unenlightened views on the straight-from-the-can consumption of Funfetti-brand frosting. If I found a cool magic sword when I was twelve, I probably wouldn’t have told my folks, because they so would not have let me keep it. I would’ve told them if I’d found something obviously dangerous, but then there goes the story.
So, when I was writing Connie’s parents, I used the classic dodge where magic was concerned: only she can see it, and she doesn’t want to try and convince them, and thus maybe have to use a lot of her valuable world-saving time seeing a psychiatrist or taking drug tests. That said, other than being a necessary obstacle, I wanted her folks to be like mine and like a lot of my friends’: dealing with their own lives, often out of touch, but basically good people who cared about them. And I wanted Connie, like my friends and I, to basically understand and respond to that.
As embarrassing as it is to have your dad carry you into the infirmary with a sprained ankle, or your mom ask if you don’t want to wear a coat, it means they care. And by the time that you’re in high school, you’re old enough to appreciate that.
About the Author:
Isabel Kunkle lives and works in Boston, where the winters have yet to kill her. She’s been the headmaster’s kid at a number of prep schools and attended Phillips Academy Andover herself, but has yet to develop mystic powers, unless you count the ability to eat nearly anything. When she has a moment, she likes reading, roleplaying, ballroom dancing, and watching bad TV from the Eighties.