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Features | Where Are All The Parents?

Have you ever noticed that there is a bit of a problem with parents in YA fiction? There just aren't many of them around.

It's easy to see the narrative benefits of absent parents. It's a lot easier for a teenage girl to save the world if she doesn't have a worried parent hovering over her while she fights the bad guys and it's easier for a teenage boy to come of age and experience his first heartbreaking love if he's free from parental rules at boarding school.

But, in my opinion, for all of the benefits of the absent parent, there as many for the present one. Some of my favourite YA novels include parents, really include them, and they add as much drama and plot to their stories as the absence of parents does in others. 

In Stephanie Perkins's Lola and the Boy Next Door Lola has to deal first with the fact that her dads don't like her boyfriend, and later with her strained relationship with her mother. All three of Lola's parents add drama to the story and, far from hindering her growth as a character, they are instrumental to it. Rainbow Rowell uses parents as a huge driving force in both Eleanor & Park and Fangirl. Eleanor and Park both have very different issues at home, but they both have family situations that they must overcome or learn to deal with. In Fangirl, although Cath is at college, she spends a great deal of time worrying about her father, and he plays a far more instrumental role in her and her sister's stories than their absent mother does.

Of course, as with everything else, the benefit of having parents around changes with every story. Harry Potter's story would not have been possible if Lily and James had still been alive, and 13 Little Blue Envelopes wouldn't have worked if Ginny's parents had tagged along with her. But I personally would love to see more YA authors utilise parents in their protagonist's stories. If nothing else, parents are always ripe for an embarrassing scene or two.

What do you think? Would you like to see more parents in YA novels? Or do you think it's generally better for the story if a character has distant or absent parents? I'd really love to hear your recommendations for books that feature great parents, if you have any!

1 comment

  1. I think this is a thing lots of YA readers have thought about! I've noticed it myself as well, and I do love a story with present parents. It's one of the things I loved about Fangirl and Eleanor & Park, and also Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe. However, I've noticed as well that when I write about teenagers (which hasn't happened in a while, truth be told) I find it easier to make the parents absent for some reason or another. So I guess I get why a lot of authors make that choice. I do love it more when they ARE there, though. :)


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