Growing Up

Authors of stories featuring young adults are sometimes criticized for using parents as all-too-convenient antagonists and for too often painting unflattering portraits of them. Likewise, teachers and coaches are regularly utilized as the “bad guys” in YA novels. Although I understand the criticism, I think it is unfounded and typically the overly-sensitive observation of an adult critic. As grown ups, people in these roles no longer loom so ominously over us, and we quickly forget the power they once possessed to totally ruin our lives. Our conflicts now are waged against a whole new array of foes. Additionally, we’ve become those parents and teachers and coaches, and we do not appreciate the unflattering light in which YA novels draw us. For young people, however, these are the authority figures under whose oppression they suffer and against whose unreasonable demands and expectations (unreasonable, at least, through the perceptions of the teenagers from whose perspective these stories are told) they rebel as part of their own growing up.

This same sense of victimization by and spirit of rebellion against parents and authority figures in general has similarly fueled a large number of rock-and-roll songs over the years because it speaks to its primary audience: the young. My favorite rock-and-roll expression of teenage angst and rebellion is Springsteen’s “Growin Up,” which I’ve included below.

A motif in my fiction is the manner in which some adults manipulate young people for their own egos, advancement and gratification, a theme I’ve seen played out with great regularity during my years in education and coaching. In GOODNESS FALLS, T.J. Farrell must balance living in a house with parents of polar opposite dispositions: a chronically unemployed, self-pitying, and entirely disengaged dad and a stay-at-home mom who pins far too many of her own hopes for a better future on him. They serve as a constant source of embarrassment for T.J., especially as they compare to his girlfriend’s, Caly, successful and refined parents. The role of T.J.’s primary antagonist is filled by Coach Harris, who willfully ignores T.J.’s issue with head trauma and uses him to advance his own career,

A world in which all adults assumed loving and beneficent attitudes towards the young people in their charge and in which these youth remunerated those right-thinking adults with respect and dutiful obedience might be ideal; although, I’m inclined to think not. It sounds rather “Stepford” to me. But I KNOW with complete certainty that such a world of saccharine relationships between young people and adults would make for horrible storytelling.

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