I’m back today with another hot take on the things that lack in literature, specifically YA. Today it’s alllll about families!
If you didn’t get the gist of it from the title, I’m pretty disappointed with the lack of representation for healthy family dynamics. Listen, I get it. There are a lot of people whose family life is less than perfect. But there are also quite a few people who grew up with loving parents, siblings, and grandparents.
I am 100% for realistic and accurate stories. I am all for broken and flawed characters and messy emotions. And I’m not against messed-up family dynamics in novels.
What I’m not for is the fact that having no healthy family relationships is merely a plot device now. We kill off parents to give characters a chance at vengeance. We make sure there are no siblings so that our characters have no heart or gentleness. We make sure our characters are ruthless, cold, and everything terrifying about the human race. We strip away their humanity and replace it with anger, pain, and revenge.
The truth is, hardened, battle-scarred characters sell. They help readers relate to their own brokenness. But where is the hope? Where is the love, the devotion, the unwavering spark that pursues good?
I’m not asking that suddenly every character we write must be happy and whole. I’m also not asking that every character have a happy family where everyone is alive and no one is psychotic. But when every character we write is left alone, we’re forced to bring out the absolute worst in them as people. And I think we then sell ourselves short.
Whether we admit it or not, our upbringing influences us a lot as a person. Whether or not we had a healthy relationship with our parents and siblings does as well. If you’re trying to write a villain, I think taking away that healthy family dynamic makes sense. But if you’re writing the hero of the story, it’s a lot tougher to find reasons for them to be the good guy if they’ve never had any role models growing up.
And some of you might be saying “But isn’t the villain having a sad backstory super cliche?” Yes, it is. But is also makes sense. Some cliches are perfectly acceptable, if used correctly. And to flip that around, the hero not having a family is honestly more of a cliche. I can’t remember the last time I read a book where the protagonist’s parents weren’t dead.
I just think that we’ve gotten so used to unhealthy family relationships in books that we have no idea how beneficial it could be to have a story where there aren’t any. And listen, I need this just as much as anyone. Killing off the family in my books is easy. Having them around in my story actually challenges me more as a writer. In the end, it’s more a problem of excess. It’s not special or realistic if no one in your story has any family. If some characters don’t, that’s fine. But there needs to be a balance and we definitely don’t have that in literature today.