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A Chair, A Fireplace & a Tea Cozy
Inside A Chair, A Fireplace & a Tea Cozy

Wait, how old are the parents?!?

There are a few landmarks in adults reading young adult books.

The point where the reader is older than the teens in the book, usually by a few years.

The point where the reader is the same age as the parents. The PARENTS.

Sarah Couri at Someday My Printz Will Come touched on this area in her post about Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King: “And while I would be biologically capable of having a teenage son, I do not.”

Peter Sieruta at Collecting Children’s Books explored this even further in his post, “Luke, I Am Your Father.” “But You’re Not OLD ENOUGH to Be Luke’s Father!” : “I read these paragraphs with a smile and a nod of recognition. It happens to all of us adult readers of children’s books at some point, doesn’t it? You know what I’m talking about. That dreaded moment when you realize that you are the same age — or even older than! — the parents of the protagonist in the book you’re reading.”

To quote Sarah and make this post all about MEEEEE and reading, often the age of parents isn’t mentioned. Readers like myself can read along all la-la-la about ages. But sometimes the ages are mentioned and it’s all “la la la WHAT.” It’s especially ego-bruising when the teen characters are thinking of their parents as old, or middle aged, or out of touch, or (fill in the blank) and the parents are younger than me or not that much older.

Ouch.

That said, let’s make this into the books with your favorite portrayals of parents.

My choice is easy: The Piper’s Son by Melina Marchetta. Dominick Mackee, Tom’s father — I love him almost as much as I love Tom. Dom is flawed; he’d been a terrific father, husband, friend, and yes he had a few too many drinks now and then, but the death of his younger brother destroyed him. In The Piper’s Son, he is slowly working his way back into his family and to his friends, and the compassion with which Marchetta treats Dom is stunning. Tom, yes, is angry at his father and the anger, disappointment, and hurt fly off the page; but so too does the desperate love and the fact that Dom’s goodness is not erased by his flaws. He is not defined by his weakness.

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About Elizabeth Burns

Looking for a place to talk about young adult books? Pull up a chair, have a cup of tea, and let's chat. I am a New Jersey librarian. My opinions do not reflect those of my employer, SLJ, YALSA, or anyone else. On Twitter I'm @LizB; my email is lizzy.burns@gmail.com.

Comments

  1. I love Ken Dietz from Please Ignore Vera Dietz. Vera and Ken don’t have a perfect relationship, but they’re working on it. He knows he’s not perfect, but he’s not afraid to try. Vera gets frustrated by her father, but she also loves him. Their relationship reminded me a lot of another father/daughter pairing that I adore-Keith and Veronica Mars, which might be why I liked them so much.

  2. A.S. King says:

    As a “late” parent, I am often old enough to be the grandparent of my kids’ classmates because most of their parents are in their very-early 20s. Could be my area. I think when we’re thinking of issues like this, it’s smart to remember settings and how things differ between, say, yuppies and rural, working-class people. There is a huge difference there. Especially for those of us who grew up in the 70s.

    I’m probably different than some, though, because I don’t care that my kids think I’m “old.” I remember thinking my parents were ancient at age 40-something. I like being older. It’s a groovy perspective. I’m not really worried about wrinkles, you know?

    My most recent read had great adults in it: I really liked the father and grandfather in Mathew Quick’s Boy 21 coming next March. They were warm and realistic, even when not the best role models (in the grandfather’s case sometimes) and throughout the book, I wondered what had happened to them and when I found out, I was so sad and yet relieved because it made so much sense.

  3. Amy-You’re right, it really does depend on where you live. I’m currently in an area where I feel like I would be very old if I had kids (I don’t have any now) and I’m only 29. But my area is full of younger families and young parents.

    I guess I don’t notice it as much-maybe because I don’t have kids of my own? But I do find myself always trying to figure out the age of the kids and teens in books, but I never seem to care about the parents age.

  4. Angela Carstensen Liz B says:

    Sarah, I am intrigued by Ken Dietz in part because I think the book is as much about him growing up as as his daughter; he may have (eventually) gotten a job, etc., and is now viewed as Parent, but his comments throughout the book about his exwife show that he still needs some maturing. I like that Ken isn’t perfect; I like that he has his own journey; and I like that from the outside, he looks put together.

    AS, I’ll be on the lookout for BOY 21. I love parents in books who are realistic: too eeevvvvillll and I’m a bit distanced by it; too perfect and I want to throw up.

    Sarah, thru my early to mid 30s, I’d read teen books and think “well, I could be the parent …. If I started having kids in high school”. A personal joke in my head that I thought was funny. Then, when I read a book where the age was given AND the main character thought “my old parents” AND it was my age? I was all “what. the……” Right now, unless the age “matters” (for Ken Dietz, for example) I prefer books where the age of the parents is omitted. But, I’m not sure, in all honesty, whether teens care or not. I think the general rule of thumb at all times is “old” is ten years older than I am now, “young” is ten years younger.

  5. Sondy says:

    Those of us who had kids young have been dealing with this for awhile! My oldest son turned 23 last year — the same age I was when he was born! (Which still feels very very strange.) I guess that’s why reading BIGGER THAN A BREAD BOX, my emotional energy was with the parents. Usually with teen books, I’m pulled into the story enough to forget these people aren’t anywhere near my age any more.

  6. Angela Carstensen Liz B says:

    Sondy, he’s 23?!? BIGGER THAN A BREAD BOX is in my TBR book; I can’t wait to read it. With teen books, I’m usually able to ignore the age of the parents if the age isn’t specifically mentioned. It’s not until there is a specific age that I get, wait, what?

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