Where Are All the Mothers in YA Literature? (Analysis of My 2020 Reads)

How Many Mothers in YA Books Are Dead?


In May 2019, I wrote a most titled “Where Are the Mothers in YA Literature? (Hint: They’re All Dead)” in which I noted that I typically struggle to create a list of “Top Mothers from Literature” because there often aren’t any mothers in the books I read, either because they’re dead or they’re technically alive but present in anywhere from 0 pages of the book to maybe 10 pages.

In 2019, I analyzed the books I had read from January through May and concluded 44% of the YA books had protagonists with dead mothers. Five of the 16 books I had read had mothers that were living but essentially not in the book anyway. I ultimately found two examples of books that had mothers that were alive and could be categorized as positively involved with the main character.

I decided to do the same analysis this year. This is, of course, a small sample size of books and biased towards whatever books I personally choose to read, but overall, it looks as if the trend of dead mothers in YA has continued for another year.

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YA Books and Their Mothers

1. The Night Country by Melissa Albert

Mother is alive and supportive of protagonist.

2. Harbor for the Nightingale by Kathleen Baldwin

Mother is dead.

3. Honor Lost by Rachel Caine and Ann Agguire

Mother is alive but on a different planet and never speaks to protagonist during the course of the book.

4. Spellhacker by M. K. England

Mother is dead.

5. Break the Fall by Jennifer Iacopelli

Mother 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

Grey’s mother who raised him is alive but not in the book.

7. Thorn by Intisar Khanani

Mother is alive but has a contentious relationship with protagonist.

8. The Shadows Between Us by Tricia Levenseller

Mother is dead.

9. Supernova by Marissa Meyer

Mother is dead.

10. Rogue Princess by B.R. Myers


Mother dies.

11. Zero Repeat Forever by Gabrielle S. Prendergast

Mother is presumed dead.

12. Arc of a Scythe Series by Neal Shusterman

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

13. The Guinevere Deception by Kiersten White

Mother is dead.

14. The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

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

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  • Out of the 14 YA books I’ve read so far in 2020, 7 have dead mothers. That’s 50%.
  • Five books have protagonists whose mothers are living but essentially absent from the book.
  • One book has an “active” mother who has a terrible relationship with her daugher.
  • Only one book has a mother who is alive and actively supportive during the plot.
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Non-YA Books I’ve Read This Year

1. The Memory Keeper by Jennifer Camiccia (MG)

Mother is alive but emotionally absent; protagonist is essentially raised by her grandmother.

2. The Blithedale Romance by Nathaniel Hawthorne (Adult)

No mention of parents of adult protagonist.

3. The Trial by Franz Kafka (Adult)

Mother is dead.

4. The Mystwick School of Musicraft by Jessica Khoury (MG)

Mother is dead.

5. From the Desk of Zoe Washington by Janae Marks (MG)

Mother is alive and generally has a good relationship with the protagonist.

6. The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern (Adult)

Mother is alive and has a good relationship with the protagonist.

7. Sisterland by Salla Simukka, Owen F. Witesman (Translator) (MG)

Mother is alive but essentially absent from the book.

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In 2019, I wrote:

At this rate, writing a book with two living parents who actually talk to their children looks like a selling point for originality, if nothing else!

It looks as if that’s still true, whether the book is young adult, middle grade, or even adult!

What is your experience reading? Do you think all the mothers in YA books are dead?


Where Are the Mothers in Young Adult Books? (Hint: They’re All Dead)

All the Mothers in YA Books Are Dead Discussion Title Image



Each year around Mother’s Day in the US, bloggers, booktubers, and bookstagrammers start asking who everyone’s favorite literary mother is and featuring lists titled things like “Top 10 Mothers in Books.”  And every year, I realize I don’t have a lot to contribute to this conversation.  Molly Weasley from the Harry Potter series comes to mind as a great fictional mother, but from there I start to blank.  It’s often hard for me to simply name a mother in many of the books I read, nevermind think of one whom I particularly admire.  This year, I decided to dig a little deeper and figure out why that is.  Below is a list of the YA novels I read in 2019 (up to April 10 when I drafted this post), and a look at the mothers featured (or not) in them.  Spoiler: the jokes about all the dead parents in YA are true.

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The Books

Cold Day in the Sun by Sara Biren

  • Mother is alive and involved in the protagonist’s life

The Cruel Prince/The Wicked King by Holly Black

  • Mother is dead

King of Scars by Leigh Bardugo

  • Mother is dead

Honor Among Thieves/Honor Bound by Rachel Caine and Ann Aguirre 

  • Mother alive but located on Mars while protagonist is in space
  • Absent from book

The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi

  • Whole team of protagonists does not have mothers

Bloodwitch (Witchlands #3) by Susan Dennard

  • Mother unnamed and implied dead

Voices: The Final Hours of Joan of Arc by David Elliott

  • Mother absent from book but should be alive

Empress of All Seasons by Emiko Jean

  • Mother alive but sends daughter away so uninvolved in much of the book
  • Relationship is complicated

A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer

  • Terminally ill
  • Important to protagonist but essentially absent from the book

Warrior of the Wild by Tricia Levenseller

  • Mother alive but hates the protagonist

Echo North by Joanna Ruth Meyer

  • Mother is dead

Famous in a Small Town by Emma Mills

  • Mother is alive but basically absent from the book

Mera: Tidebreaker by Danielle Paige

  • Mother is dead

The Princess and the Fangirl by Ashley Poston

  • Both Imogene’s mothers are alive; seem involved with her life but are mostly absent from the plot of the book
  • Jessica’s mother unmentioned

Four Dead Queens by Astrid Scholte

  • Mother alive but separated from protagonist
  • Absent from book

Ship of Smoke and Steel by Django Wexler

  • Mother is dead

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  • Out of 16 books, 7 have dead mothers. That’s about 44%.
  • Only 2 of these books feature mothers positively involved in the protagonist’s life.
  • Both books with positive mother relationships are contemporary fiction.
  • Two books feature “involved” mothers who are not on good terms with the protagonist.  Both are fantasy.
  • That leaves five books with mothers who are technically alive but not actually involved in the book.

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Other Books beyond YA

  • Out of the 3 middle grade books I’ve read so far this year, 2 feature dead mothers and 1 a completely absent mother.
  • Out of the 4 adult novels I’ve read this year, 3 feature dead mothers and 1 features a mother who was thought dead and is now not on good terms with the protagonist.

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This is a small sample of books, but if it’s indicative of a larger pattern, it explains why I can’t think of any positive mother role models in literature: they basically don’t exist.  There are practical reasons, of course, why parents are often gotten out of the way in both middle grade and young adult novels, so children and teens can go on wild adventures without pesky responsible adults intervening.  However, I think seeing some more involved mothers in fiction would be a nice change.  At this rate, writing a book with two living parents who actually talk to their children looks like a selling point for originality, if nothing else!