Julie Just writes about the “parent problem” in young adult literature and reminded me that Chapter 6 of Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn gives us the one of the first fully elaborated accounts of child abuse from the point of view of the victim. Here’s a brief excerpt:
But by and by pap got too handy with his hick’ry, and I couldn’t stand it. I was all over welts. He got to going away so much, too, and locking me in. Once he locked me in and was gone three days. It was dreadful lonesome. I judged he had got drowned, and I wasn’t ever going to get out any more. I was scared. I made up my mind I would fix up some way to leave there.
We live in a culture that refers constantly to helicopter parents, yet there are many young adult books with self-absorbed, negligent parents who can’t be bothered to attend to their children’s needs. In children’s literature you need a certain degree of parental incompetence and absence to enable the child’s “triumphant rise.” An earlier age depicted cruel, abusive parents or simply killed off the biological mother and father, but in a very different genre–fairy tales and fantasy. Is the parent problem in YA fiction symptomatic of a new hands-off attitude among parents today?