readercon catchup #4: Strong Stories with Strong Parents

Strong Stories with Strong Parents

this was the first panel that caught my eye when i was scanning the program before the con, and i think it was an interesting and revealing conversation of sometimes differing opinions. i now have a pile of to-reads. i seem to have missed a lot of fantastic classic YA material growing up.

Sonya Taaffe (who was sitting in for the absent Sarah Prineas) kicked it off splendidly with a frustration at YA novels where parents are deadbeat, neglectful, or actually dead. Laurel Anne Hill agreed, adding that kids can get into all sorts of trouble right in front of their parents, which is often more interesting.

Judith Berman mentioned that a friend of hers once described the problem this way: children don’t feel they can get away with anything while their parents are around, but parents now feel it is their specific job to prevent adventure/excitement (i.e., danger). she went further, relating that as a child she would get on her bike in the morning and come home for dinner and her parents didn’t bat an eye; her son, however, is never out of adult vision. she openly admitted the dichotomy and was troubled by the difference, but couldn’t, as a mother, bring herself to change it. nobody else picked up on this, really, which i thought surprising and depressing. i think this question of the changing views of safety in fiction is a major issue and would like to have heard others’ thoughts on it.*

Alaya Dawn Johnson did say that mainstream YA has more ‘normal’ adults than F/SF YA, which was interesting. in fact, she recalled that Guy Gavriel Kay said that his book ‘Isabel ‘ was not YA, precisely because the parents were present. I believe Sonya followed this, saying that part of being a young adult is coming to terms with adults, and Laurel went further, saying adolescence certainly does not end when kids go off to college (she claimed to still be in the midst of it). Shira Daemon then posited that the point of YA should be to help teach kids how to deal with the world and the relationships in it, though she admitted that the fantasy environment did twist that, slightly.** Laurel made it clear that it can’t come acroass as teaching, though, because they would put it down immediately. Sonya mentioned Rosemary Sutcliff‘s books, which weren’t didactic, but you can learn a lot about how Roman Britain really worked from them.***

there was a little discussion of kids jumping from kids books to adult books too quickly, and someone mentioned finally reading Twilight and lamenting ‘400 pages of adolescent foreplay!’ which got a good laugh out of the audience.**** Alaya followed that, saying that YA is no longer just Judy Bloom, but lamented the fact that there are often seen to be certain topics that are ‘un-usable’ in genre YA, such as discussion of sex.

Shira raised as an example the 6 months Ron and Hermione spend traveling the country alone in HP and the Deathly Hallows without so much as a kiss; however, she said she was perfectly okay with this, especially when considering what her own children would read. Judith brought up Philip Pullman’s Golden Compass series, and his statement that he had to be explicit about the sex in the final book to be honest to the story and to his readers. Alaya agreed that fantasy YA is very resistant to this kind of honesty in regards to many topics. Laurel noted that all stories should be about the characters first and foremost.

Judith related a story of a parent asking her about one of her books, whether it was okay for a child to read: Judith responded that it had some scenes of gore/violence in it, but there was no sex. ‘okay, great!’ said the parent, clearly giving it the green light. discussion of American society’s acceptance of extreme violence and prudishness about sex followed, and Alaya pointed out that her novel Racing the Dark is Polynesian-based, which gave her enormous flexbility in areas considered taboo in America, and that different cultural attitudes, particularly to sex, get almost no awareness here. Shira concurred, noting that the genre is still extremely white (4 of the 5 panelists were white, and all were women), and publishing is not yet pushing variety.***** unfortunately, this conversation didn’t go very far before the end of the panel.

in addition to references above, there were a number of books/authors mentioned, in no particular order:

  • Ysabeau S. Wilce – ‘Flora Segunda’
  • Joan Aiken – ‘Wolves of Willoughby Chase’
  • P.B. Kerr – ‘Children of the Lamps’
  • Ian Fleming (seriously!) – ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’ (seriously, again! ignorant me had no idea it was a book first, and apparently far better than film, of course)
  • Diane Duane – ‘So You Want To Be A Wizard’ series
  • Eleanor Cameron – ‘The Wonderful Flight to Mushroom Planet’
  • Patricia McKillip – ‘Song for the Basilisk’ (not explicitly YA, but notable for parental role)
  • Diana Wynne Jones – ‘Tale of Time City’
  • Ursula K. LeGuin – ‘Gifts’
  • Pamela Dean – ‘The Secret Country’ trilogy
  • Lauren Mcloughlin – ‘Cycler’ (girl becomes boy every month during her period and family hides her away each time)
  • Ray Bradbury – Something Wicked This Way Comes
  • Cory Doctorow – ‘Little Brother’

* readercon topic?

** interesting to note: about this time i realized that the overwhelming majority of the conversation and works mentioned were fantasy, not science fiction. i wondered if that was telling, but it didn’t come up. i didn’t dare raise my hand again after the Espionage panel incident.

*** which made me feel better about my total consumption of Danny Dunn and Encyclopedia Brown stories at that age.

**** see footnote 3 in previous post

***** again, another readercon topic? although it occurs to me that these topics i consider new may well have been done to death in previous readercons, given its 20-year history.