Where Are All the Fathers in YA Books? (A Look at My 2020 Reads)

Introduction

In May 2019, I published a post titled “Where Are the Mothers in YA Literature? (Hint: They’re All Dead)” in which I noted that most of the mothers in the young adult books I read are, well, dead. This year, I did a follow-up post looking at my 2020 reads and determined that, again, a large percentage of mothers in the YA books I read were dead or, if they were alive, were barely in the book or had a terrible relationship with the protagonist.

I wrote these posts around Mother’s Day (in the US), which is why they focused exclusively on mothers in literature, but I got a lot of comments pointing out that, of course, a lot of fathers in YA books are dead, too. Since people seemed interested in that, here is an official look at the YA books I’ve read in 2020 so far and how many fathers are dead or simply absent from the book (in many cases, both parents are dead).

I do recognize that there are reasons for all the dead parents in YA (and middle grade) books, including giving the protagonists independence, making them grow up, allowing them to take risks, etc. and that there are lots of historical precedents in literature for dead parents in children’s books, including in classics like The Secret Garden.

However, when I break down the numbers and realize that the majority of YA books I read seem to include at least one dead parent, it seems to get a bit ridiculous. I would love to see strong family relationships in young adult books and would love to see authors get creative with how they might include living parents (who actually talk to their kids) and still manage to have a plot where the protagonist can take risks or exercise some independence.

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YA Books and All the Dead Fathers

1. The Night Country by Melissa Albert

No father.

2. Harbor for the Nightingale by Kathleen Baldwin

Father is alive and seems to have a cordial if distant relationship with the protagonist.

3. Honor Lost by Rachel Caine and Ann Agguire

Father is dead.

4. Spellhacker by M. K. England

Father is dead.

5. Break the Fall by Jennifer Iacopelli

Father is alive and supportive but largely absent from the book, as the protagonist is an elite gymnast and lives apart from her parents.

6. A Heart So Fierce and Broken by Brigid Kemmerer

Father is dead.

7. Thorn by Intisar Khanani

Father is dead.

8. The Shadows Between Us by Tricia Levenseller

Father is alive but has a terrible relationship with the protagonist.

9. Supernova by Marissa Meyer

Father is dead.

10. Rogue Princess by B.R. Myers

Father is dead.

11. Zero Repeat Forever by Gabrielle S. Prendergast

Father is presumed dead.

12. Arc of a Scythe Series by Neal Shusterman

Both protagonists’ fathers are alive, but characters are allowed no or limited contact with family.

13. The Guinevere Deception by Kiersten White

Father is alive but not really present in the story.

14. The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

Both protagonists’ mothers are alive, but not very involved in the plot.

15. Darcy Swipes Left by Jane Austen and Courtney Carbone

I’m not 100% sure whether to count this as YA, since it’s just Pride & Prejudice as told through texts and social media, but here it is.

Elizabeth’s father is alive, and they have a good relationship, but he is essentially absent from the book.

16. The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier

Father is alive. He has a distant relationship with his son since the death of the mother. He is essentially not in the book.

17. So This Is Love by Elizabeth Lim

Father is dead. (It is a Cinderella retelling, after all.)

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Analysis

Again, this is a small sample size of just the books I’ve read so far in 2020, but it tracks with the trend of dead mothers I’ve seen for two years in a row now.

  • 53% of the fathers are dead (9 out of 17 books).
  • 0% of the fathers are actively supportive in the book.
  • 47% of the books have fathers who are alive but…barely in the book.
  • I would only characterize one father as actively antagonist to the main character, however.

Conclusion: This is depressing. Although some books feature fathers who seem genuinely nice, they are simply NOT IN THE BOOK. I haven’t read a single YA book this year with a father who is noticeably in the story and actually likes his own child. I think that needs to change.

Briana

23 thoughts on “Where Are All the Fathers in YA Books? (A Look at My 2020 Reads)

  1. Kay @ Hammock of Books says:

    Now I’m interested to see how many of the books I read had father figures! That’s crazy how few there are! I definitely want to see more YA books with strong family relationships, including moms, dads, and siblings ❤

    Like

  2. Soph says:

    That’s just crazy and I feel like the authors remove parents from the plot to make it less complicated (and a bit more emotional). I’d also like to read more about good and healthy relationships with family in YA.

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    • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

      Yeah, I get it’s expedient to allow the character more freedom if their parents are absent, and it cuts down on “unnecessary” characters in general, but I’d like to read a COUPLE books a year that actually have parents in them! :p

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Christina @ The Bookshelf Corner says:

    Awesome post! Books with active/loving father figures I love that I can think of off the top of my head: The Extraordinaries (YA/2020) & The House In The Cerulean Sea(contemporary fantasy/2020) both by TJ Klune.

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  4. Veronika @ Wordy and Whimsical says:

    I love this post!! I really wish that more YA books had somehow managed to somehow push in the parents, or at least *a* parent despite the difficulties that might cause in the plot. And even though mothers are also missing from books frequently, fathers are presented even less. That said, the book I’ve just finished – Felix Ever After – is one that did a good job of showing Felix’s parents, in my opinion. He’s been brought up by his dad – their relationship is complicated sometimes, but it feels real and well written. A bonus is that Felix’s issues with his mother are brought up and addressed throughout the story. 🙂

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    • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

      Yeah, I knew both parents tend to be missing from books, but I was surprised going through the books I’ve read this year to realize that the presence of fathers was even worse than mothers! There were NONE who were in the book to any real degree and actually nice to their kid!

      I haven’t read Felix Ever After. I’ll have to keep that one in mind!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Tiarna says:

    Wow this is a fantastic post!! Your points are so true, I can’t believe I have never really thought about that before. Now that you have mentioned it, it annoys me SO MUCH!

    Like

  6. Michael J. Miller says:

    Haha, sooooo…from looking at this and your post on mothers, is the general overarching message of YA novels something to the effect of being a teenager is awesome and heroic and life-affirming but having kids is just a terrible thing to do because you’ll likely either end up a) dead, b) absent from your child’s life, or c) the villain? More seriously, I wonder if this trend is intentional or just something that’s become a casual convention of the genre.

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  7. Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction says:

    How crazy! I will say that you seem to read mostly fantasy—I think YA contemporaries generally have more present fathers (though I’m sure if I looked at it more carefully I’d find far too many who are uninvolved or absent). I think fantasy characters tend to need a bit less structure in their lives generally so they can go on quests or defeat evil and such! 🙂

    Like

  8. Charis @ Charis Rae says:

    I couldn’t agree more with this fantastic post! 👏 Parents always seem to be absent in YA for convenience, because teens are usually doing things that their parents wouldn’t approve of. I think a little rebellion and self-discovery is healthy and natural for teens, but on the other hand, I think we should be using media to impact teens in positive ways and display parents who know what their kids are doing AND help/support them.

    Like

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