Spoilers for plot of Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, I Am Number Four, and Divergent. Don’t read if you are planning on reading/are partway through reading one of these books or series.
You’ll notice that nearly ALL popular Young Adult fiction these days has found some way or another of getting the parents out of the picture. Take Harry Potter for instance: his parents were killed by Lord Voldemort, before he could even remember them; in The Hunger Games, Katniss is sent off into the arena, from which she cannot contact her family; and in Divergent, Tris chooses to join a different faction than the one her parents live in.
Either way, not having parents around can be essential to YA plot; in many of these stories, characters may have chosen not to do certain things, had their parents been around to admonish them. In some stories, the plot may never have had occurred had the main character’s parents not been with them in some way. And it proves very useful not to have parents poking around their children 24/7.
Basically, writing a successful YA novel may depend on getting the parents out of the picture.
The most popular way of getting parents out of the way is by simply killing them off. Brutal, but true. Many writers choose this route without a second thought. Sometimes, parents of the main character are killed in the middle of the novel or series as a result of his or her actions, but, after just a few sad moments of reminiscence, their parents are gone, and the reader returns to the normal plot of the story; a very effective but overused way. In some ways, the death of parents is essential to the plot (ex. to make Harry Potter “The Boy Who Lived” and not “Just Some Boy”), but at other times, it doesn’t really affect the character (ex. when Tris’s parents die, she is sad about it, but after a while, it begins to become just another part of the story; the author doesn’t make a big deal about it, so neither does the reader). Nevertheless, killing off parents who don’t contribute to the storyline can be necessary, but sad. While not essential to the plot, the death of Tris’s parents prevents her becoming conflicted about her parents. However, had Harry Potter’s parents not died, the story may as well just have been called How The Evil Lord Voldemort Slowly Destroyed the Wizarding World While Harry Potter (Who Was Just Some Wizard Boy) Stood Idly By.
Another way of coping with this is having the parent away from the child for most of the story. For example, when Katniss is sent off to the Hunger Games, her mother has no way of contacting her. But then there is always the question of what will happen once the character sees her parents again. Then what will happen? In some cases, such as in Divergent, Tris’s parents simply die, going back to the “killing off parents” approach. (I’m oversimplifying this here; I’m just addressing the book Divergent, not the rest of the series.) But in other cases, the children’s parents must bond with the children, and become a part of their lives again. In Allegiant, Four is reunited with his hated father and his despised mother. This causes him to become conflicted internally as well as externally, with him questioning every one of his choices, trying to see how his family would be affected. However, this novel does not question the ways that Four is conflicted about who he has become in relation to who his parents may have wanted him to become. The relationships are also unrealistic in many aspects, especially in Four’s story.
(Realistic fiction, however, often requires that the parents be alive; otherwise, it would not be realistic. For example, most children grow up knowing their parents, who they are, what they are like, and are often a reflection of how their parents raised them. For example, many peoples’ opinions on politics are very different, depending on the households they come from, and, essentially, the people who raised them; their parents.)
However, sometimes the author does decide to include the parent or guardian in the book, involved with the plot. Such is the case in Pittacus Lore’s bestselling I Am Number Four series. The Guardians, known as Cêpans, of the children involved are very much in on the secret, and act as the educators and guiders of the children in what is right and wrong, and also what they should do in terms of plot crisis in the book.
The death of Number Four’s (John Smith’s) Cêpan, Henri, leaves him very much affected, as his Cêpan was both very much of the plot and also his parent.
Through all of these examples, I have tried to prove to you, the reader that getting rid of parents is a common tactic in young adult novel plot. Sometimes it isn’t necessary, and sometimes it doesn’t even affect the plot, but it simplifies things for the author, and in some ways sets the character free to follow the storyline of the plot and do things he or she would not be able to do had his or her mother or father still been alive.
So there’s my take on YA plot and parents.