YA Literary Tropes: I Have to Take Care of My Parent(s)

Welcome back readers! We are continuing our discussion of tropes (commonly used  themes) in YA literature.  So far, we have explored The Old Clunker I Drive and The I Already Know You Introduction.  This week let us jump right into one of my favorites!

The I Have to Take Care of my Parent(s) Trope

YA literary tropes i have to take care of my parents

We read it time and time again. These teens have a lot of responsibility and are oftentimes more capable than their parents.  Why is this plot line so often used?  Well, parents are not perfect so this is a realistic human experience for many readers.  I also think that some wise words J.K. Rowling once said about the unhelpful librarian Madam Pince are relevant here.  Sometimes, when you get the assistance you need the story is over.  So, let us keep the story going by taking a look at some of the most inept parents (and their very capable children) in YA lit.

  • The DUFF (2011 Top Ten Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers) by Kody Keplinger: Bianca takes care of her dad.   Bianca’s father, an alcoholic who has been in recovery for most of her life has a terrible relapse when he receives divorce papers from Bianca’s mother.  This was one of the most poignant aspects of the book; Bianca is scared of what her father will do next in his alcoholic rages and she is ashamed that someone may find out about his drinking.  Bianca holds it together at home very well but uses her boy-slut sometime-friend Wesley as an outlet when she does not know where else to turn.  Bianca’s incapable father helps the girl realize what she needs.


  • Twilight Saga (Top Ten Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers: 2006, 2007, Teen’s Top Ten: 2007, 2008, & 2009) by Stephenie Meyer: Bella takes care of both of her parents.  Bella is characterized as more of an adult than her flighty mother and her “I’d rather be fishing” father.  In this example, I think Bella’s parents are in the wind so that she can become fully immersed in the Cullens’ sparkly world without anybody asking too many questions.  Plus making all of those meals for her dad gives Bella something to do when she is not being hunted by vengeful vampires or hanging out with shape shifting wolves.



  • No Parking at the End Times by Bryan Bliss: Abigail’s parents would be better off if she took care of them.  Twins Abigail and Aaron are living with their parents in a van parked on the streets of San Fransisco.  Why?  Because a preacher took their father’s “donation” and promised the family salvation at the apocalypse.  The date of the end of days has come and gone though, and nothing happened.    Abigail’s mother and father have fallen for the deceptive preacher’s promises and now the family is homeless.  Though Abigail and Aaron know the church is a hoax, who will listen to them?


  • The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson: Hayley takes care of her dad.  It has always been Hayley and Andy together, taking care of each other.  But as Andy’s Post Traumatic Stress Disorder symptoms worsen  and Hayley has to take care of her father (and herself, and their home) more and more, she finds that she has her own trauma to work through.  Hayley might not be the most responsible and capable teen we have seen in lit, but she takes on a lot in this moving tale.

So what other YA tales could never have happened with parents who were involved and on top of things? Thank you to all of those fictional parents out there who have not stepped up to the plate.  So many stories would have gone untold without your ineptitude.  Join us next week as we explore one of the greatest tropes of our time: The Manic Pixie Dream Girl (and Boy)!

—Tara Kehoe, currently reading Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

2 thoughts on “YA Literary Tropes: I Have to Take Care of My Parent(s)”

  1. I think this trope is particularly interesting in J and YA fiction! Inept or absent parents allow the child or teen to be the center of the story in a way they otherwise realistically couldn’t in a world run by adults.

    1. I agree! We could certainly explore a lot of this trope in juvenile fiction as well. Thanks for reading.

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