Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Siblings? We don't need no stinkin' siblings (Family in YA Lit)

The other day an interesting conversation popped up on my Twitter feed, which I then hijacked.  Lindsey Leavitt (@lindsey_leavitt), Jessica Day George (@JessDayGeorge), and Shannon P (@StalkintheBooks) were talking about the way that siblings, and a lack thereof, were depicted in YA Lit.  It really put me in a position to pause and think about diversity in a new way, and challenge my own personal bias.

The Twitter Talk

It all began when I saw a Tweet from Jessica Day George challenging that notion that all siblings fight, which is the trend in ya lit as she sees it.  So we began chatting back and forth about family dynamics.  Where were the families with 3 or more siblings?  Why were siblings always engaged in such hostile relationships?  So I have spent some time these last few days thinking about diversity in ya lit and how that applies to things beyond just race and religion, but to family structures.

Examining Personal Bias


I am an odd bird, both a sibling and an only child.  Although I have a younger brother, my parents divorced when I was in the 5th grade and we were not always raised together.  Throughout all of high school I was a de facto only child, except in the summer.  I have also had step siblings come and go into my life.

For the past ten years, I have worked in a community with a high divorce, poverty, etc. rate.  My teens came to my after school program telling me stories about how they shared a father with that kid over there, but they didn't really know them.  Several of my teens were being raised in foster homes or by grandparents.  The teens we tended to interact with were those that needed the most help academically, and they seemed to come from the most challenging home situations.

While engaging in this discussion I realized that I didn't really notice the lack of intact families and siblings, because it wasn't something that I was looking for.  It was not my personal experience, and so I didn't recognize the lack of it.  Fast forward to my library today: I see a large number of teens coming in with parents.  It has been such an eye opening experience, and comforting.  It is nice to know that there are still parents involved with their teens.  It is nice to see families succeeding.  Not all of them do, but lots of them do and they are probably under represented in ya lit.

Digging for Facts

This sent me on a quest to dig up some facts about the modern day family structure.  I am, after all, a librarian, I can find this.  My investigation revealed some interesting facts.

The increase in the number of only children you think you see is not in your imagination.  The rate of onlies has doubled.  20% of children are now being raised as only children.

Further digging revealed that the US Census government report indicates that 56% of married households have no children in the home.  Less than 10% have 3 or more children under the age of 18 in the home.  These statistics vary based on age and various other demographics. {www.census.gov/prod/cen2010/briefs/c2010br-14.pdf}

As for sibling relationships, 50% of teens report being a victim of sibling bullying. When we talk about bullying, it is important to remember to include these types of stories.

What’s Happening in YA Lit?

If you read enough YA lit, you know that the trend is to be an only child.  This is not necessarily surprising when you consider another popular ya trend, to get the parents out of the way.  YA lit has a tendency to focus on a finite group of characters and tell a tight story with a narrow, teen centric point of view.  That’s not a bad thing, it represents and works for the target audience.  But if part of our goal in reading is to expand our world view, then we definitely need to see more family dynamics represented.

Lindsey mentioned there was a tendency in ya lit to have older or younger siblings, which I do see a lot in blended families.  Couples come together later in life or second marriages and decide that they want to have a biological child between them.  Also, increasing rates of secondary infertility rates create greater spacing between children, even when they are from the same parents.  There are, in fact, 6 years of age difference between my two girls.  Interestingly enough, there are not a lot of stats that look at age spacing in children.

With a 50% divorce rate, you see an increase, too, in the number of blended families.  There are step siblings, half siblings.  I recall reading in several places that there is also an increase in the number of children and teens that are being raised by grandparents for various reasons.

When we talk about diversity in ya lit, we also need to be talking about the diversity in families represented in ya lit.  Yes, statistically there are a lot of blended and nontraditional families, but we also need to make sure that traditional families are represented.  And for Leavitt, that means including sibling groups of 3 or more.
As for the other part, well – sibling relationships can be complicated things.  That complexity should be reflected as well.  Complicated doesn’t always have to be caustic and unhealthy.

One of my most recent favorite reading experiences was reading 10 Rules for Living with My Sister by Ann Martin with my Tween.  After she was done, she went and got a piece of paper and created her own sister comparison chart (it's in the book).  It was a great moment. But, of course, this is an MG title.

What’s the Story, Morning Glory?

So I put out the call to the Twitterverse and asked for book recommendations with larger size families that depicted healthy sibling relationships.  The general agreement was that MG Lit does a better job at this then YA Lit.  However, here are a few of the recommendations:
Invincible Summer
Forbidden
Faking Faith
Sean Griswold’s Head
Going Vintage
Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan
The Curseworker Series
The Unbecoming of Maray Dyer
These Things I’ve Done by Gabriel Zevin
The Scorpio Races by Maggie Steifvater
The Mortal Instruments
Summer of Firsts and Last
When You Open Your Eyes
Megan Meade’s Guide to the McGowan Boys
The Key to the Golden Firebird
Born Wicked
My Life Next Door
Personal Effects
Crash
Starters
Summer My Life Began

Lindsay Leavitt is the author of the soon to be released ya novel Going Vintage.
Jessica Day George is the author of several books for teens, including her newest title Princess of the Silver Woods
Shannon P. is a book blogger who blogs at stalkingthebookshelves.blogspot.com

Please help us! Tell us in the comments your favorite ya books that have healthy depictions of large sibling families.

7 comments:

  1. I was catching bits and pieces of this on Twitter and wanted to jump in but was busy. I'm glad you wrote up this recap! Thanks for including the list of titles--I've been meaning to do an RA list like this for the library, and this will help!

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  2. Middle grade does a way better job. All of the examples I could think of were middle grade! I did catch the snippet where it was discussed that supernatural/paranormal themed books tend to have less family involvement, which I agree with. I appreciate those books that send their characters to boarding school because then there is a reason for the lack of parents!

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  3. Very interesting post! I came from a family of 3, which expanded to include a stepbrother, and then a half-sister. 4 teens and a toddler under one roof! And I don't see any books like that. ;-) It's good to keep in mind that there are other family structures out there.

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  4. I mentioned Forbidden because you asked about books with multiple siblings. People might think it odd on a "healthy-relationship" list. The kids in the book experience serious neglect, and there is sibling conflict as well as siblings who grow too close, but some of the sibling relationships really are supportive. So, there's a rather extreme spectrum of sibling relationships depicted there.

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  5. I truly never thought about this before this post. Now that I think about it, even when I read a book with multiple siblings, most of the time they are either absent or have a bad relationship. My Life Next Door is on your list and it definitely does fit the healthy relationship criteria and I loved the family aspect of it. I'll have to check out more of the books on the list above. Great post!

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  6. Loved this post. The family statistics were so interesting. I have a MG series coming out with Bloomsbury this fall about two sisters. Growing up myself with way too many sisters, I know that every healthy sibling relationship has both good and bad to it. But it's the bad that usually makes a good story. (And that speck of good that makes a great story.)

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  7. I still think the relationship between Katherine and her younger sister in Judy Blume's Forever was super sweet. It's upper YA, but Katherine doesn't talk down to Jamie or bully her, despite the age difference.

    Having three younger sisters, and four sons I really respect the sibling dynamic. It's long troubled me-the only child, absent parent, dynamic of so many YA books. I get that the teens are supposed to 'figure it out' but really, it only reinforces the prima donna, I don't need anybody, gene expression of teens--and who needs more of that lousy attitude...

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