Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Where Are All the Grown-Ups?

This week, we're reading The Maze Runner by James Dashner.  One of the very first thing you'll notice about the book:  There are zero adults in the maze.  It's just a big group of boys (and eventually, one girl), trying to find their way out of this maze.

This actually pops up a lot in YA literature.  Well, all GOOD YA literature anyway.  See, the point of YA literature is that it's supposed to be focused on the kids.  It's supposed to be THEIR story and they're supposed to be controlling it.  As usually, it all comes down to who has the power.

In books like The Maze Runner, the kids don't actually start out with the power.  There are unseen adults controlling the whole situation from afar.  While the kids do control their lives to a certain extent, they still basically act like trained monkeys through the whole thing. 

I don't want to give it away, but let's just say they simultaneously gain the power and never gain the power.

Starters is another good example of adults disappearing, literally.  We already know that most of the adults die in the book, yet they still try and control the kids that have remained (all kids not 18 must have an adult or they get shipped off to the orphanges.)  But Callie takes charge of her own life: she lets an adult take over her body to make money, she bucks the system, and is basically the person who keeps her and her brother alive.

So when about when adults don't disappear?  We see this a lot in kids books.  Because of Winn Dixie is a good example of the parents having the power.  Opal does things "wrong" and has to learn lessons, which is all well and good, but those lessons are spoon-fed to her by the adults in the book.  They're telling her how she should act and what she should be learning.  They hold all the power in the book.

A book like Coraline, all the power is given to her.  It's Coraline that has to find her parents, to save them and to destroy the evil witch.  It's also Coraline that has to learn her own lessons.  She doesn't rely on adults for the things that she needs, but at the same time, doesn't dismiss them.  She even mentions to the witch that she wants her parents back so they can tell her no.  She tells the witch, “I don't want whatever I want. Nobody does. Not really. What kind of fun would it be if I just got everything I ever wanted just like that, and it didn't mean anything? What then?"  It's kind of an epic quote because Coraline is kind of proclaiming what she's learned and why her parents are important, her REAL parents.  She's defining her role: it's her job to ask for all the things and it's her parents job to know when to reel her in.

Take a closer look at your YA lit and kids books.  What kind of role are the kids playing?  Do they just parrot the adults?  Or do they take charge and become the makers of their own story?

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