The LTUE conference is now over, and it makes me a little sad. One of my absolute favorite things about conferences is connecting with people, and I was able to connect with a lot of people! Seeing old friends and meeting new ones makes my heart happy.
Me with an old friend (David, whose blog I yoinked the picture from) and a new friend (Kate, who is an amazing teen writer).
And of course, I learned a ton. One of the panels in particular made me think. It was about the "orphan phenomenon" that occurs in YA-- you know, the fact that every hero/heroine either has no family or a disfunctional/disconnected one.
The basic consensus is that this happens because YA books are about teens finding themselves. If they have a supportive, functional family, they have someone to run to who helps solve their problems. And the character needs to solve their own problems for a YA novel to ring true.
There were some things in the panel that I agreed with, and some I disagreed with, but here's my basic takeaway: whether your character is an orphan or has a huge family, there MUST be a reason for it.
In the book Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly (which I HIGHLY recommend), family is a huge deal-- the MC's brother has died, and much of the book is her coming to terms with it (and dealing with parents who, in their own ways, aren't coming to terms with it themselves). In The Maze Runner by James Dashner (another great book), no one has a family-- they're all amnesiac teens trapped in a gigantic, death-filled maze.
In both of these cases, the inclusion or exclusion of a family is purposeful, with a good reason that is tied to the plot. It makes sense within the story. Creating an orphan character simply so she can run off and save the world without a curfew isn't good enough.
Of course, your character is the one saving the world. They need to be the ones to solve the story problem, and have a reason not to run to their family to solve things. The family doesn't have to be gone, but there needs to be a reason your teen can't rely on them.
In my own stories, family usually plays a key role, but there are always REASONS the teen has to solve the problem on their own. In Devolutionaries, Ash's grandfather (his parental figure) is the problem-- he's been kidnapped. In The Unhappening of Genesis Lee, Gena knows her overprotective parents would flip out if they knew who she was working with to solve the problem, so she doesn't turn to them.
Whether you make your character an orphan or give them a family (dysfunctional or otherwise), you'll be facing cliches and stereotypes. To avoid them, just make sure whatever you do is purposeful. If you give reasons within your story for things to be the way they are, you can make just about anything work.
So, my friends, what are your thoughts? Do you write orphans or characters with family? Do you think YA books need more families-- or need more orphans? What books have you read (or written!) that makes either situation work or not work?
And remember, this is the last week to enter the raffle for a chance to win a critique from agent Sarah LaPolla and editor C.A. Marshall! Go enter for a chance to win-- and to help a few kids in Africa get an education!