Maybe It’s Not an Issue?

I made a big book revision decision. I’d gotten to 55,000 words and changed course. It’ll probably happen again, too. Sometimes I have to get to the climax to realize, hey, I’m not feeling too sorry for these characters. Something isn’t right. I got to thinking that a book about sunken treasure needs some kind of monetary motivation for the characters. You know, like saving the Goondocks. Seems so obvious now. Why in the world hadn’t I picked up on that before? So I starting thinking about how other contemporary YA books deal with teens and money. It was kind of a stretch to come up with any. In my memory bank of YA books, money is usually explained by summer babysitting. Rarely even, does the main character hold a part-time job. College expenses are normally not an issue either. What I have seen a lot of is a minor character who has a rich/popular arch nemesis. Or, there’s the rich bitch main character who’s going to learn to value something other than social status. But what I’m talking about is why books don’t deal with how teens get their money. Leave comments about books you’ve read that more than mention a main character’s financial situation.

Here’s what I think it is: American teens don’t have much financial autonomy. I think parents are paying for a lot. Any kind of jobs teens have are a practice run. I was always taught to put some money aside for car and college, but I knew a large portion of my college was paid for and all of my necessities. I think that’s probably still the case for most. This is a pretty gross generalization, but maybe that’s why we don’t see financial stress reflected it our contemporary YA characters. There just isn’t much of that for teens. Would you agree? So, it becomes tricky to write about financial strain. If the financial burden is on the teen’s parents, then that’s who needs to suffer, and suffering is the job of the main character, so it must trickle down somehow.

Published by jody sparks

Jody Sparks Mugele spent her first career in marketing writing and leading teams of writers and editors. After her son came out as transgender in 2015, she dedicated herself to advocating for the rights of the LGBTQ+ community. For two years, she led the Indianapolis regional chapter of PFLAG, a nationally renowned LGBTQ+ advocacy group. She has given many conference talks about parenting trans kids, healthcare in the trans community, and suicidality among LGBTQ+ youth. And with GenderNexus, an Indianapolis-based advocacy organization, she created programming and led support groups to work with parents to help their children through all aspects of gender transition. She recently moved to Northeast Georgia where she is excited to develop opportunities to continue to strongly and proudly advocate for LGBTQ+ members of our society. She also LOVES kitschy Christmas crafting!

9 thoughts on “Maybe It’s Not an Issue?

  1. Wow, excellent points, Jody! You’re correct, there are very few YA books with money issues — and usually the issues are on the parents, but I (of course) can’t think of any instance right now where a MC is forced to work (although in Audrey, Wait, the MC had a job at an ice cream place, right? I can’t remember what she was having to use the money for, though…).

  2. I agree too. I haven’t read many YA books where the main character’s family was poor. I’m sure there are some out there and then the financial issue would be more in the forefront. But those books I’m thinking are more issue books. Sort of like the one you lent me about the girl who’s mother was a total pack rat. I can’t think of the title. It’s interesting that this is not a part of YA character’s everyday life, when it is for so much of the world.

    1. Natalie, I was thinking of that book, too–Dirty Little Secrets. It definitely had a lot to do with money, and I thought C.J. did a great job of using the parent’s issue to put pressure on the teen and make it her problem.

  3. Mother Hen has graciously allowed her dear human friend, jedwardswright, to comment on this blog in her place. Besides, Mother H is too busy solving the world’s many problems, and the UN can’t get by without her.

    My parents expected us to have part-time jobs whether we needed them or not, because they believed that the experience of being in the working world while young built character.
    Consequently, I spent a good deal of time behnd the counter at MacDonald’s, and at the candy counter and ticket office of a movie theater. As it turned out, my parents had a point.
    If I were writing about a young person with a part-time job, I would focus on how that position contributes to the growth of the character, rather than dwelling too much on the financial needs of the individual or family involved. Certainly, that motive can be mentioned, and should be if it fits the storyline, but developing your protagonist’s personality is both more interesting and more useful in furthering the movement of your narrative.
    The job situation also provides the opportunity to introduce other characters who have an impact on the young adult, and who can contribute to the plot, and provide conflict that the teen can then overcome.
    I think that you have a good point about the dearth of work-related involvement in young adult novels. Many young people probably would identify with a character who, for whatever reason you choose, needs to answer to yet another authority figure in his/her life: a boss.

    1. My thanks to Mother Hen. jedwardswright makes some good points. And, I also worked at a movie theater! It ruled.

      I do love the idea of teens facing finances as an antagonist, I’m just not sure they would relate to it.

  4. I have to disagree. A lot of pressure is put on me because of financial issues. I’m turning 16 in a few weeks and if I plan on driving, I’m expected to buy myself a car and pay for insurance. I won’t be going to college unless I get a full ride or pay for it myself. Living in a small town with few jobs has put a lot of stress on me about how I’m supposed to come up with all of this money.

    But, I do agree that this isn’t something touched upon in books very often. I think it should be. Teens are under pressure about money. Perhaps not all of them but some are, especially in rural low-middle-class families, it seems.

    1. Harmony, I do agree with that in small town communities and job loss has put pressure on teens, but even so, I think you are in a minority. And while I worry about the reach of an audience, I’ve still written a book based (at least partially) on those pressures. Regarding college, it’s interesting to me that the pressure isn’t will-I-or-won’t-I go, but either go fully paid or go and go into debt. But that’s probably a different conversation. I’m glad you see a place for this issue in the world of YA. And I’m glad a teenager is reading my blog! Yay!

  5. Don’t many teens work part-time so that they can buy extras?
    If young people don’t need part-time jobs, then I must be imagining all the teens that I see working at fast food joints, retail stores, ice-cream parlors, movie theaters, etc.
    I wonder where these businesses find these imaginary teenagers? Wait a minute, that’s perfect! You need imaginary teens for your book, and that must be where you can find them!
    (Sorry, but if I didn’t have sarcasm, I would have no sense of humor at all.)

  6. Hey Jody,
    I was in much the same situation as Harmony. I wanted freedom and that meant a car. I started working and saving for a car and insurance from the time I was 14–but some of, a lot of, that money had to go to family groceries, pay my own doctor “co-pays” (there’s a story there I can tell you offline), pay for my cheerleading uniform, get to vocal and acting competitions, etc. etc. The only must-haves in there are groceries and doctor bills, but I was determined I wasn’t going to be deprived because (I thought) my parents had made stupid decisions with their money. And college? Forget it–if I didn’t find a way to pay for it, it wasn’t happening. Since I wanted to escape all of that, I didn’t read books that reflected my own reality, and maybe that’s one reason there’s a shortage of YA with teens and money. I relied on Franny and Zooey because they were so spoiled and all they had to worry about was their rich ennui–and they lived in NYC because that was my fairyland.

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