A Rare Treat: Great Parents in YA Stories

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Guess what Hubby got me for Valentine’s Day? Great YA lit in movie form!

We stumbled across Easy A about a month ago when we were surfing the cinema channels on Dish Network (because that’s what our lives have become: no chance to get to the theater without three kids in tow, just waiting for movies to come to us via satellite while the little monsters are sleeping). The reviews on Rotten Tomatoes (“smart,” “witty”) immediately reminded us of one of our all-time faves, Juno, so we paid the six bucks for instant access and settled in, two thirty-year-olds watching a high school movie — and loving it.

Emma Stone is fantastic, of course, and is the perfect blend of self-assured and vulnerable with this character. But what absolutely sold the show for me was the first moment we meet Olive’s parents. The casting said it all. When I saw Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson on the screen, I fell in love. Could a young adult character have any better parents? No! Every line they gave just made me love them more.

I have to include at least one clip:

(And in case, like us, you kept rewinding to figure out what the “clever word play” is that she says, I finally caught it on my tenth time through: “grist.” So the movie gets bonus points for improving my vocabulary.)

The day after we saw Easy A for the first time, Hubby asked, “So how can we be as cool as those parents in the movie?”

“I was thinking exactly the same question,” I said. “But I haven’t figured it out yet.”

I’ve thought about it a lot, actually. For one thing, it’s dang unusual to see cool parents in a coming-of-age story. The protagonist generally has a lot more leeway for adventure if he or she has been orphaned, either by death or neglect. In this case, Olive Penderghast gets leeway by having parents who are . . . what would you call them?

They don’t freak out about her lingerie-esque wardrobe, but they do point out to her that they are becoming concerned about it. They don’t freak out when she takes a boy up to her room and closes the door, but at one point when she’s alone with the door shut, growling because she’s mad, her dad comes in and says, “Are you okay? It sounds like you’re having sex in here.” It’s a funny line, but enough to show us that her parents are aware, and it becomes touching when Olive doesn’t reveal the source of her frustration and the dad doesn’t push her to, just saying, “Give ’em hell.”

On the one hand, I’ve wondered if her parents should have stepped in more. Not for the sake of the story, which as I mentioned sort of requires parents to be hands-off. Just for the sake of good parenting. Or is the space they give her part of what makes them admirable to Hubby and me?

I’ve been aware of “space” in the family a lot lately. As I’ve learned more about nutrition I’ve been changing up our diets a lot, which, with four boys in the house, is enough to cause some grumpiness. You know, the way to a man-boy’s heart and all that. Food is important. And I soon learned that my best approach was to back off from everybody a bit. The six-year-old especially needed space to come around on his own. If I insisted he try a new food, he would cry and we’d have a battle. If I waited, he eventually discovered that whole wheat corn bread didn’t actually taste that different from white flour corn bread.

Today he even shocked us by saying, when his dad offered him banana bread for dinner, “No, I need to eat something healthy.”

(Never mind that the banana bread has no sugar or white flour and so is actually healthy in that sense.)

So maybe hands-off parenting really is the way to go. Let the kids learn for themselves.

But I think the secret is also to let them know that you’re aware of them, watching out for them, ready to talk with them when they’re ready. Joke with them, let them know you know what’s up, spend time with them.

Yeah, I think if Hubby and I can be like Olive Penderghast’s parents, we’ll be doing pretty well.

What do you think? What great parents have you encountered in YA movies or books? Any you want to be like?

Leave a comment!

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9 responses »

  1. I like your parental inspiration. They were a hilarious couple in that movie. I honestly tried to imagine a movie or book parent that I was hoping to be like and struggled – in part because I don’t read a lot of YA fiction.

    Mainly I think I can’t find one set since each child requires something different. For Olive Penderghast her hands-off approach parent were perfect. For you and me, our parents were the right mix. Mostly I just hope and pray that my parenting will be enough for my children and not land them in a psych ward.

    Really, though, I admire most parents if they just try and don’t bail on the kids and each other. Those are the parents who had their priorities straight and their values firm. I learned about General Washington in American Heritage today and found out that he was rather poor at being a general in the beginning, but his commitment to values and determination to learn from his mistakes (which he did) garnered the respect and loyalty of his troops. As a founding father, I suppose he could count as my example.

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    • Washington can totally count! I like what you said about not being great at first but having values and determination that won over his men. For so long I’ve felt like we failed our oldest kid beyond repair, and I’m so glad that we’re finally winning him over to liking new foods, etc. So yes, I agree that trying hard counts for a lot because none of us are perfect parents! And I’m always glad when I get to see useful examples of good parenting that I can incorporate into my own strategies.

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  2. Oh, thanks for adding the movie clip. Fun! I might have to try this movie, because that dad is hilarious. But I think that parents like these are kind of like a Mr. Darcy and Mr. Knightly – they don’t exist in real life; and nobody knows why.

    (Personally I believe it is because when it comes to the boring or awkward parts, they can just cut to a new scene. Real life doesn’t have that luxury.)

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    • Good point. It is nice that fiction can skip the boring scenes of life. Nice that memory sort of works that way too. Maybe we’ll get lucky and our kids will only remember the cool moments. (Wishful, I know.)

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  3. That is too funny because I just saw this movie a week or two ago and in the middle of it I texted Steph (who had recommended it) to tell her that I want to be like Stanley Tucci when I have kids!

    P.S. SHORT COMMENT! I think I deserve a prize of some sort. I’ll take a book, obviously.

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  4. Pingback: Honing in on Minor Characters « All About the Words

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