What MTV Understands About Young Adult Lit

*Short posts for the next several days because I’m headed to Florida today for an entire week*

…But, as I was lying on my death bed Sunday night (small exaggeration), feeling, well, deathly ill as one does on a death bed, I got to watch an extraordinary amount of MTV and you know what I learned? MTV uses the exact same tactic for successfully targeting teens as most YA authors do.

Okay, so back up for a second. Awhile ago, I read a post by Nathan Bransford defending dead parents in young adult and middle grade fiction. While many critics consider it a major YA cliché unrepresentative of real teen life, Bransford said the trope was defensible since cutting out the parents paved the way for the teen protagonists to take on adult roles—a natural element in YA novels that tend to have coming-of-age type themes.

So, I’m lying in bed, with Shade open on one side (another absent parent book) and MTV on in the background and on comes “True Life: I’m Supporting My Family.” The episode followed young adults whose parents were dead or incapacitated and who had to provide for their large families. And I thought, what better example of kids taking on adult roles than that? No wonder this appeals to the teen audience.

Then there is the new MTV phenomenon “Teen Mom.” Again, teens forced to come-of-age within a short time period and take on an enormous amount of responsibility. Add to that “True Life: I have a parent in prison,” “True Life: I have broke parents,” “True Life: I’m living off the grid,” and “True Life: Married Young” and…I’m sensing a pattern.

So, while I’m not saying you need to kill off the parents in your YA/MG novel, it doesn’t hurt to find a way to force your protagonist to stop depending on adults. The old Dead Dad Syndrome isn’t necessarily lazy. It’s exciting.

*Examples of popular YA/MG stories with dead/absent parents:

Hunger Games
Harry Potter
James and the Giant Peach
The Lion King
Island of the Blue Dolphins
Huckleberry Finn
Dicey’s Song