Saturday, August 25, 2012

Dead Parents in YA

disclaimer: there are spoilers for Harry Potter series and Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta.

It's kind of a running... joke.. that so many YA parents are dead (well, or absent). It's to a point where we applaud the presence of parents, and we don't really think much of the orphan YA protagonist whose stolen our sympathy right from the start.

And this post isn't one to talk about how annoying the trend is or whatnot. It's to recognize these parents. These dead parents and dead adults who were once teenagers.

Because I think sometimes we forget that the all knowing adults were once people, living and breathing and living life and taking risks. We forget they were just kids once.

I'm rereading Harry Potter right now and I just finished the part in Order of the Phoenix with Snape's worst memory, just when James Potter, Sirius Black, Remus Lupin, and Peter Pettigrew were all 15 year old students. They were arrogant, as Sirius put it. Idiots, as Harry put it. But they were just kids, and they were carefree.

And you don't understand how much it kills me that none of them are alive by the end of the seventh book. Moony. Wormtail. Padfoot. Prongs. These friends who took risks and chased girls and put it all on the line for each other. They lined up to serve the Order and fight against evil. The fact that Sirius spent 12 years in Azkaban and didn't live to see his name cleared. To know that Harry and Sirius only had a precious 2 years to get to know one another and that in a perfect world, Harry would have known his godfather all his life.

Remember the scene with the resurrection stone in the seventh book? James. Sirius. Remus. All there. All dead.

It was just that glimpse of the boys when they were 15 that brought out the fact that they were all best friends without a care in the world once. Not the absentee parents or adults, but people. And now they're dead and I'm heartbroken.


And I also wanted needed to mention Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta. From the nature of the narration, we get both stories, the present time with Taylor and also the story of Narnie, Tate, Jude, Webb, and Fitz. The names that come with Hannah's manuscript that just gives a small glimpse into the friendship that blossomed from a tragedy.

Marchetta includes the details that really wrench my heart out and have committed to memory. Like when Taylor looks at a photograph of Webb for the first time. She says:
He is the most beautiful creature I have ever seen and it's not about his face, but the life force I can see in him. It's the smile and the pure promise of everything he has to offer. Like he's saying, 'Here I am world, are you ready for so much passion and beauty and goodness and love and every other word that should be in the dictionary under the word life?' Except this boy is dead, and the unnaturalness of it makes me want to pull my hair out with Tate and Narnie and Fitz and Jude's grief all combined. It makes me want to yell at the God that I wish I didn't believe in. For hogging him all to himself. I want to say, 'You greedy God. Give him back. I needed him here.
From the very first time I read the book and with each subsequent rereading, this quote has stuck out like it was flashing in neon lights.

Because we learn what has happend 17 years later, we learn the truth about Tate and Narnie and Jude, of Fitz and Webb. And it's not pretty, it's not bursting with life. It's sad and depressing and I can't help but think how people can fall so far and I can't help but resent a parent who doesn't take care of a child. But then I remember how she used to be a teenager. I remember how inseparable the friends were, starting territory wars for fun and writing the rules down a purple notebook. That they were kids. I don't even give a crap about how they were fictional, because they feel real to me.

And bad things happen to good people.
And I grieve like I’ve known them all my life.
It absolutely kills me that she could have. She could have.

I guess the lesson here is that dead parents weren't always dead parents and that makes me very sad.


  1. I think I get it, I think I do. It's like, they might've been here, been there for the characters, if only, right? They were once so much and if only they could've been this for that much longer. It's achingly sad.

  2. :(

    Also, the resurrection scene just makes me sad, period. "We never left"... oh gawd.

  3. love this post Audrey :)

    I never really think much about dead parents in YA novels, but with these two books especially, it's so sad what happened to the parents (and other adults).

  4. I'm over here tearing up at that Harry Potter scene. Gosh I felt so bad for Harry. Essentially every 'father figure' in his life was taken away from. James, Sirius, Dumbledore, Remus. I thought the information and scenes with them as children was brilliant on J.K.'s part. It made them human, full of youth and mistakes. But it killed me that Harry didn't get to keep ANY of them. The scene with the resurrection stone was heartbreaking.

    I can't speak to Jellicoe Road because I haven't read it yet.


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