One aspect of YA lit that I haven’t wrestled with much is the overwhelming presence of corrupt and incompetent adults in YA fiction. This trope first came to my attention while reading the An Unfortunate Series of Events with my daughter, as adult after adult was simply either horribly selfish and interested in exploiting the children for gain or blindingly stupid and incompetent. I enjoyed that series, as did the young ‘un, but I kept feeling this vague sense of unease at just how evil or moronic the adults who were in the Baudelaires kids’ lives were.
The Baudelaire children manage to keep ahead of the insanity, but barely, using talents and skills that they constantly have to refine (and discover). After the death of their parents (which we discover was plotted to seem an accident by the horrible adults) the children are given a caretaker who is an idiot (Mr. Poe), and they are essentially hunted by their wicked uncle Olaf.
My initial response – and it may be more correct than I want to believe – is that with increased buying power literate young adults are simply buying books that match their own desires, i.e., depicting an adult world full of cretins and bastards. That characterization simply seems too easy to me, and I wonder if the anxieties being expressed aren’t a bit more subculture-specific – the adult world that teens are about to enter looks venal at worst and mind-numbing at best, with the concomitant fear that this is what readers will become if they lose their imaginative abilities. I suppose I could also read this as a set of economic fears, since so often in these series the characters seem to have financial stability within their grasp if not for the idiocy of the adults who supposedly care most about them (of the survivors).
As I further investigate, a quick list to explore:
- The Weasleys in the Harry Potter world
- Mother and Haymitch in The Hunger Games
- Twilight and the Mortal Instruments series as anomalies
The fact that the only competent adults are usually dead parents also weighs in this discussion…