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  • Jeff Somers 5:00 pm on 2015/05/11 Permalink
    Tags: , forgive me leonard peacock, , , , , missing parents, , , , , , the lord of the flies,   

    6 Books in Which the Parents are MIA 

    Parents complicate things. They force you to change clothes, insist you come home before curfew, and demand to meet the people you’re heading out with for the evening. In other words, it’s hard to have adventures, fight crime, start a revolution against a dystopian government, or go on a killing spree when your parents are involved.

    And writers know this, which is why they frequently delete parents from stories that involve characters who are really too young to be gallivanting about falling in love, blowing things up, or discovering they’re The One destined to save the universe. The fact is, many novels with young main characters have either missing or absent parents, or parental characters who are so ineffective they might as well not be there in the first place. Here are six novels proving that when it comes to stories about kids, parents just get in the way.

    Lord of the Flies, by William Golding
    While it isn’t the first novel about kids to feature no parents, it is the most horrifying, as it takes the concept to its most extreme conclusion. This book’s entire world is devoid of adult influence after a shipwreck in which the only survivors are kids, who find themselves on a deserted, uncharted island. That the children quickly devolve into savages, their existence defined by violence, bullying, and other terrifying behavior, is likely no surprise to anyone who has ever been to a children’s birthday party, and this classic remains the gold standard when it comes to stories about a world free of adult influence.

    Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
    The original modern story of a teenager who has agency because his parents are nowhere to be found, Salinger’s classic novel creates the template followed by so many modern novels about kids: teenage protagonist simply ignores the existence of his parents and heads off into the evening to have an adventure. Writers have been using this template ever since, to varying degrees of success, to explore what happens when a kid tries to live an adult life without the requisite experience and emotional maturity. For Salinger’s Holden Caulfield, the experience leads to a breakdown and institutionalization, but even in subsequent novels where kids head out into the evening without parental supervision and manage to survive (and even thrive), the key remains locking the parents up somewhere for the duration.

    The Harry Potter series, by J.K. Rowling
    Absent parents aren’t just a feature of gloomy stories involving emotional breakdowns, savage children, and a bleak worldview. In modern times even the most successful novels in the world have found it necessary to delete some parents. While there are parents (and parental figures) in Harry Potter, most of the adventures focus on main characters Harry, Hermione, and Ron acting on their own. If Harry’s parents were alive, or if Hermione’s weren’t Muggles, the struggle against Voldemort would likely fall to them instead of their kids. In order for Harry and his friends to be the center of the story, the adults have to be useless—or altogether missing.

    The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
    In modern times, parents are often not only absent, but also somewhat villainous. At first glance you might be tempted to point out that Mrs. Everdeen is certainly present in Collins’ incredibly popular novels. Mr. Everdeen isn’t, but Katniss’ mother plays a role throughout the trilogy. It’s a tiny role, however, and in the first installment it’s made very clear Mrs. Everdeen is not the most effective or present parent in the world. In fact, she’s so useless Katniss is the one who holds the Everdeen family together, at least until she offers herself as Tribute and plunges into a world where the adults are only present outside the arena, pulling strings and setting traps the children must navigate alone.

    The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt
    Even Pulitzer Prize–winning literary novels often find it necessary to delete parents in order to give their young main characters enough agency to navigate their stories. In The Goldfinch Donna Tartt uses Theo’s mother’s death as the instigating incident that sets his whole life in motion, and later makes his father such an absentee parent Theo actually has more adult supervision and influence after his father’s death. The middle section of the novel is set in an adult-free bubble in Las Vegas that feels almost dystopian in its complete lack of parental figures, allowing Tartt the space to let Theo define himself, for good and ill.

    Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock, by Matthew Quick
    Sometimes absent parents are simply plot necessities. Matthew Quick’s 2013 novel about a boy who brings a gun to school intending to kill himself and his former best friend is powerful and riveting owing to Quick’s mastery of Leonard’s voice. A troubled mind, Leonard restlessly loops through his reasoning as he delivers presents to the few people he respects and makes his way through what he expects to be his final day, deserted by his burnout father and barely remembered by his self-obsessed mother. With just one parent paying attention, the tragedy of Leonard’s life might have been avoided or at least reduced—but that would have made for a very different, and likely much shorter, novel.

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  • Ginni Chen 5:00 pm on 2014/08/01 Permalink
    Tags: alvin schwartz, , , , , , , , , , patrick mccabe, scary stories to tell in the dark, , stephen gammell, , the butcher boy, the lord of the flies, ,   

    Beat the Summer Heat with 8 Bone-Chilling Books 


    I grew up in Japan, where, in addition to fireworks and temple festivals, it’s a cultural tradition to tell scary stories during the humid summer months. Spooky stories are popular during that time of year for a couple different reasons. First, Japanese Buddhists believe that spirits return to their ancestral home during the month of August, so it’s the prime time to tell ghost stories.

    Secondly, there is a cultural belief that scary stories will both figuratively and literally “chill” you in hot weather. After all, when you’re frightened, the hair on your neck stands on end and chills run up and down your spine. Thus, theoretically, your body’s physiological response to fear effectively cools you off and you don’t feel the heat anymore.

    To test it out, here are 8 bone-chilling books. Give them a read and see if the creeps keep you cool!

    Child of God, by Cormac McCarthy
    By far the most disturbing book I’ve ever read, but also one of the most beautifully written. In a mere 200 pages, McCarthy takes you through one social outcast’s descent into isolation, violence, and depravity in the deep South.

    The Butcher Boy, by Patrick McCabe
    I couldn’t sleep after finishing this ghastly masterpiece about a young Irish boy. It’s narrated from the point of view of Francie Brady, the only child of an unstable mother and a drunken father. Like all young boys he loves comics, candy, and his best friend, Joe. He’s also a monster.

    The Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe, by Edgar Allan Poe
    Nobody can give you goosebumps like the Master of the Macabre, Edgar Allan Poe. I get shivers imagining the dungeons in “The Cask of Amontillado” and “The Pit and the Pendulum,” even when it’s a blistering 90 degrees outside.

    In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote
    Capote’s nonfiction book is based on his own investigation into the murder of a Kansas family and interviews he conducted with the convicted murderers. There are innumerable true-crime novels out there, but something about Capote’s classic will haunt you long after you finish it.

    Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, by Alvin Schwartz
    These stories might be for kids, but mark my words, they’ll make an adult’s hair stand on end, too. I still get the heebie-jeebies from these classic tales, especially when they’re accompanied by Stephen Gammell’s creepy, drippy, oozy illustrations.

    Haunted, by Chuck Palahniuk
    Though not in the vein of classic ghost stories, Palahniuk’s collection of short stories will nonetheless make your blood curdle. The premise? A bunch of writers think they’re on a retreat, then realize they’ve signed up for something much more sinister. What they do in response is incredibly unnerving, gory, and entertaining. You’ll get pangs of phantom pain alongside the shivers.

    Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley
    Shelley’s classic never fails to make me shudder while still pulling on my heartstrings. Frankenstein’s monster has been a ubiquitous and influential character in pop culture, but he’s become increasingly less scary over the years. Go back to the original Frankenstein and get properly frightened, the good ol’ Gothic way.

    The Lord of the Flies, by William Golding
    It’s not a ghost story, it’s not a horror story—it’s even written for young adults to read. It’s nonetheless one of the most brutal, ominous books I’ve ever read. So far this reading list has been about murderers and monsters, but I’ve added one cult classic about a band of British schoolboys, stuck alone on an island with a conch shell. Why’s it on this list? If you haven’t already, just read it and see.

    What books have given you the chills?

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