I unapologetically read a lot of young adult books -- for work (hey, they keep getting adapted into films), because it helps me recommend books to my own kids, and because I just want to, period. But something that bothers me as an adult reader and viewer of coming-of-age stories is how often the parents are absent, distant, abusive, missing, overbearing, plain evil, or, of course, dead from the very beginning.
I fully understand why those sorts of parents make the young protagonist more sympathetic or troubled or fragile, but it's a relief when the parents aren't the antagonists. That's why I was so impressed with the parents in "If I Stay," who like the mom and dad in "The Fault in Our Stars" are actually, you know, DOING THEIR JOBS as parents: loving their children unconditionally; giving their kids advice; providing their kids freedom to grow up but being there for them always and without question.
Author Gayle Forman based the premise of the life-changing accident on good friends who died in a car accident like the one in the book, and she even made sure the house in the movie matched the one that belonged to those fellow parents and friends.
"When I visited in preproduction, they took me to the house, and I went in and started to sob, because it was so real," Forman told us. "The house had so many details that reminded me of the place that belonged to friends of mine -- the friends on whom the book is based. And it felt like stepping into their house. It was overwhelming."
Because the story is taking place in Mia's mind as she contemplates whether to surrender to her injuries or live a very different life than the one she knew, she spends a lot of time reminiscing about her parents. So Forman made Mia the kind of teenager who (gasp!) actually likes her parents and enjoys spending time with them. Actors Mireille Enos and Joshua Leonard lovingly portrayed the Halls, former punk rockers who keep a home full of music (their 8-year-old son loves Iggy Pop and the Ramones) and joy.
"There's so many beautiful scenes between Mia and her parents. There are ones with her dad and a lovely dishwashing scene with her mom where they talk about love. It's so intimate," Forman said. "I'm so glad they captured that closeness between Mia and her parents. And my God, Mireille [Enos] is so good!"
Thank you to Gayle Forman for making the Halls the kind of parents we need more of in young adult literature and movies. Parents aren't perfect, but most of us aren't narcissistic jerks or emotionally abusive monsters. It's nice to see a movie where the parents (however heartbreaking their storyline) are important characters.
Here are a few other upcoming YA adaptations that feature awesome parents:
1. "Between Shades of Gray" by Ruta Sepetys: Not to be confused with that other "Shades of Grey" book (which is definitely NOT for teens), Ruta Sepetys's heartbreaking story follows 16-year-old Lina who's sent to a Siberian labor camp with her mother and brother during WWII. Lina's mom manages to keep her daughter's spirits up during unthinkable circumstances.
2. "Daughter of Smoke and Bone": Blue-haired Karou doesn't have traditional parents, but her guardian Brimstone -- a chimaera who trades wishes for teeth (just go with it) -- is one of the best father figures in YA. He loves Karou and knows her better than she knows herself.
3. "Eleanor & Park" by Rainbow Rowell: Eleanor's mother is married to a hateful man, and her father barely has time for her, but Park's parents are fabulous. A cop and a hairstylist, they are still really into each other, and they demonstrate for Park what it means to truly love someone.
And more existing adaptations with great parents you can watch right now:
1. "The Book Thief" – Orphaned Liesel ends up with an older, childless couple – Hans and Rosa Hubermann. Even though Rosa is kind of intimidating, she and the gentle Hans want nothing more than to protect Liesel from the atrocities of the war.
2. "Divergent" – Well, Four might have lost the parent lottery, but at least Tris's parents are kind, supportive, and secretly badass (even though we don't see that much of them).
3. "Harry Potter" – Molly and Arthur Weasley might not have as many galleons as Harry Potter's dearly departed parents, but they're still such awesome parents. They might bicker and fuss, but they are not above hurling an Unforgivable Curse to save their seven kids (and Harry and Hermione too).
4. "The Princess Diaries" – Mia's single mom Helen is a cool feminist who helps her daughter come to terms with the fact that she's actually royalty. And later Mia even gets a sweet stepdad.
5. "Twilight" – Bella's dad Charlie Swan, Jacob's dad Billy Black, and adoptive vampire parents Esme and Carlisle Cullen are all great parents trying to keep their kids safe against supernatural threats.