Parents In YA… WHERE YOU AT?! | Thursday Ramblings

Hello bookworms and welcome back! It’s Thursday, which means it is well and truly time for a Thursday Ramblings post! If you are new to this blog, hello there and let me tell you a little bit more about what is original weekly feature is about…


This week, my fellow bookworms, I want to discuss the notion of parents in Young Adult novels. Or should I say, the absence of parents or parental figures in YA. Seriously, what is up with that? Why do nearly all of our YA books have a lack of parental figures within them? Or at least, from what I’ve read, I haven’t found any novels that portray this. 

And what I mean by the inclusion of parental figures or parents in YA,  is not just having them there, lingering as silent statues behind the entire story, but including them as large influences in the lives of the protagonist, who, in most YA novels, are under the age of eighteen. So often we see sixteen-year-old protagonists going off on crazy adventures away from home, and whether you’re reading a contemporary or a fantasy, the situations vary. But in either case, there’s a lack of it. 

Of course, there then comes the claim that we read books to escape our reality. And gosh darn, yes, I agree with this 110%! It’s the reason I adore reading fantasy so much. Because I can dive into it and forget everything about the world I live in. But in the back of my mind, there’s a little voice saying; why are these kids running a muck like they’re free? Where are their parents? 

This is an innocent discussion. I don’t even know whether I want more realistic portrayals of teenage life in YA or if I want to keep it the way it is. To try and figure out my opinion, I am going to discuss a few points and compare, possibly ask a few questions. So let’s get this started, shall we?

Why do we need parental figures in YA?

In our lives, we are surrounded by people who are our superiors. People we must learn to treat with respect, and one of the first people we learn this with is our parents. They teach us to “respect our elders” and not to talk back, and all that jazz which I am sure you have all heard before. 

I feel that, in the same way our own parents and people around us, teach us to respect authority, the same can be done in novels by creating influential and important parent figures that young protagonists rely on. After all, we’re all reliant on our parents until we turn 18. Even then, we might still be dependant on our parents and what they say. 

Parents are such an influential part of a young adult’s life. We grow up by the way they teach us, the things they show us, we look to them for guidance and for help. And yet, we don’t see this in YA novels. Why not?

But hey, I’m all for independence! 

Personally, I crave for independence. I am only 17, and I have quite a few months to wait until I am 18, and yet, I desperately want to move out, get a job that can allow me to sustain myself on my own. I love the feeling of taking care of myself and relying only on myself. 

It’s probably why I enjoy reading YA so much and hardly ever question why there are hardly any prominent parental figures within the stories. But then this raises another question: 

Don’t we read books to ESCAPE our reality? 

With books, we walk this strange line between reading them for the purpose of escape, but also wishing for more realism or authenticity with storylines and situations within our fiction. I hear it all the time in reviews, and yet when I see discussion posts about “why we read books” it’s all about escapism. 

So if we are reading for the purpose of escapism, then I suppose it’s alright for us not to include proper parental figures in our YA books… right? However, maybe it depends on the genre we are referring to. Young Adult in itself is such a large scoping genre. Within it there’s a million different sub-genres. The two main genres I think of however, is contemporary and fantasy/sci-fi

Parental figures in YA Contemporary

With contemporaries, I feel as though it would be much more necessary to include parental figures that play a significant role in the protagonist’s life. When I think of contemporaries with good parental figures within them, I can think of maybe three: Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey,  A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, and The Shock of the Fall (maybe). And this is out of the many, many books I read this year.

Contemporary YA novels are the novels that speak stories and messages that are closest to that of real life. Mainly we see themes such as coming-of-age, or deeper themes such as dealing with loss or love, and I feel that these would be in need of some parental figures. A teenager doesn’t typically deal with everyday situations without their parents. Sure, there are cases out there where young adults do not have the opportunity to even rely on their parents, but it doesn’t mean that we should focus on this and forget about everyone else who have perfectly capable parents, right? 

Parental figures in YA Fantasy

Fantasy is different ground though. Fantasy is all about moving away from the ordinary. Magic, dragons, witches, elves… you name it. So with all of this craziness that isn’t part of real life, there’s probably less of a need to include significant parental figures in the story… 

But, I still feel as though there should be some sort of inclusion. The closest thing that comes to mind when thinking of a fantasy that has significant parental figures that influence the life of the protagonist, is The Inheritance Cycle series by Christopher Paolini. However, from that, it only lasts in the beginning before the protagonist goes running off into the world riding dragons and whatnot. 

Personally though, if there is no inclusion of parents in fantasy, I am not very bothered. However, I like to see that parents have an influence on the children within YA fantasy novels. Because no matter what time period or fantastical world a book is located in, children and young adults are still very much influenced by their parents, am I right? 

Alright, I think I have done enough talking for one day. Now, I am throwing the discussion out to all of you, my beloved bookworms! Discuss with me! 

What do you think about the way parental figures are portrayed and written in YA novels?


42 thoughts on “Parents In YA… WHERE YOU AT?! | Thursday Ramblings

  1. What a great topic, Josie. I’m in awe of the depth and intelligence with which you explore it. Like you and a lot of other YA readers, I’m puzzled sometimes by the lack of parental presence in many YA books–with one notable exception being Gayle Forman’s loving, close-knit family in If I Stay. I adore them and wouldn’t mind seeing a few more families like them in YA fiction (except, you know, not dead).

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This might just be because my parents have always given me a HUGE amount of freedom, but in many ways the amount some parents are in contemporary YA isn’t too unrealistic for me? In a lot of the books I’ve read the parents are there, they check in with their kids… That seems like a good amount. Then again, maybe I just read a lot of parent heavy YA because I can think of many books right now where parental figures are even a part of the plot. One thing that is a little odd in YA is that it seems like it is rare that both parents are alive and involved. There are A LOT of single parents in YA, which is just very interesting. (I did actually just read a contemporary- Life by Committee, where both parents were very involved, which was cool!)

    Liked by 1 person

    • My parents also give me huge amounts of freedom, and in my own life I do find that they are not so extremely involved in my life, but they do play a fairly big role, for things like transport.
      But maybe it’s a matter of perspective. Maybe I am just not reaching for the books that portray parents in YA. After all, I’m much more of a fantasy fan!

      Liked by 1 person

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  5. The absence of parents in YA is a trope that doesn’t necessarily bother me; it depends on the book! Sometimes I think it’s ridiculous that their parents aren’t there, other times I kind of forget about the parents haha. And like you said, it definitely depends on the genre! It can bother me when I’m reading a contemporary book, but when I’m reading fantasy not so much. I love this post Josie! 😀 Also the title haha

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I agree completely! Sometimes it’s tiring to find books with orphaned main characters. But on another note, this could also be a great medium for the author to explore the character’s parental figures. Sometimes parents don’t have to be biological. A great example is of course Harry Potter, how he doesn’t know his parents but throughout the series we really feel the parental figures Harry has chosen, like Sirius and Dumbledore and Molly.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yep, all your points are points I agree with completely. I feel like we need just a little bit more than the orphaned children or teens with dysfunctional or unreliable parents, you know?
      And I love the idea of the exploration of non biological parents, just the relationship between an older character as a parental figure and a teen. I haven’t read Harry Potter yet but from watching the first three movies a few years ago, I can understand the figures of Sirius and Dumbledore!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. The thing about writing a book, especially a marketable one that you submit to a traditional publisher, is that there are certain guidelines set in place for each genre. When it comes to YA fiction, one of the most important rules, and this is a rule that all writing teachers/workshops/publishers teach, is that the protagonist should be the same age as the target audience, and this protagonist should not rely on his or her parents. What that mainly means is that the hurdles in the story that the protagonist comes across should be solved by the protagonist, and the parents shouldn’t be helping. The reason for this is these books are being written for teenagers, in a time of their life when independence is becoming super important. You, as an older, more mature reader, have different values in what you look for in a book. But for a teenager, the mindset that the publishers are targeting is ‘teen wants independence from adults, parents, and authority figures.’
    I think that accounts for a big majority of WHY parents are so lackluster in ya literature. It’s taught that way and writers may take the message *too* far in how absent they make the parents. Because parents can definitely be in there as an important part of their life, but solving the plots problems should be done without parental aid.
    The other factor that I think plays a big role is that parental relationships are very hard to write. Creating the family life of your protag is so much more work than just plopping the blank canvas relatable protag into the world like most authors do.
    So I think it’s a combination of what’s taught, and authors being lazy/unconfident about it

    Liked by 2 people

    • Ah, that makes a lot of sense. Marketing does okay quite a big role in what is included in a novel. I think what publishers are aiming for is totally okay. I am all for independence, especially teenagers embracing independence and responsibility for themselves and their actions. It’s true, it teaches young readers to rely on themselves more, and to rely less on that of their parents. That, I understand. I guess I just feel as though there’s a lack of the authority and situations where a parent or equal authority figure would playa role in certain parts of a protagonists life.
      But either way, my opinions are torn on this subject still.


  8. Yay I love this discussion topic, Josie! Parental figures is something that I always think about when I’m reading YA. Just like you, it doesn’t bother me too much if characters don’t have parents in fantasy books. I guess I’m so into the action and the drama that I tend to overlook the fact that they all seem to be orphans. But it doesn’t bother me when parents don’t play a huge role in contemporary novels. I’m a little bit sick of seeing the single parent or divorced parents who have second families trope. I know that authors are trying to represent different kinds of families but why can’t we have some who are just happy families? Some contemporaries with involved parenting that I read this year are Night Owls, What We Saw, Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda and My Life Next Door.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Love your discussion posts and this one was pretty perfect! I always find myself wondering where the parents are when I am reading YA books. It’s so crazy, especially if they go off on this crazy adventure far from home. It’s like, did you tell your mom you were leaving first? “HEY MOM, I’M GOING ON AN EPIC ADVENTURE, BYE”. HAHA.:P

    Liked by 2 people

    • Haha! Yep exactly! It’s a little out of the ordinary! But then there’s my problem. We read books to see an out of the ordinary story, to see something what we would never be able to do, for certain reasons, in which one could be because “my parents said no” situation you know?
      But then again, parents in our YA books don’t need to play a HUGE role, they just need to be there more often, as more positive role models within our books!

      Liked by 1 person

      • One of the reasons why I loved Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe was because their parents were so involved in the books and the kids’ lives. I thought that was really cool! I agree, they don’t have to play a HUGE role, but it’ll be nice to know they exist! haha.

        Liked by 1 person

  10. An excellent post, Jose! I believe our parents are the ones who make us see the world in their own light and then help us develop our own. It is really sad to take note of the fact that parental figures have become side-lined characteristics of YA these days. I loved your line where you talked about the struggle of wanting relatable stories that help us escape our own reality. True That!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! I really think we just need at least a little change in the direction in which we write about parental figures in YA. Because there is still that struggle I talked about that makes it hard to decide. 😊
      Thankyou for stopping by! 💕

      Liked by 1 person

  11. I understand the sentiments of having present parents but at the same time, I can see myself dismissing them in fiction because it’s actually quite relatable to me growing up with a single parent for the majority of the glory years (late elementary-most of highschool). Not saying this is the case for everyone though. So with parents missing, dead, drunk or whatever, it’s definitely a valid perspective (in my opinion) for characters to grow apathetic to their absence. It’s kind of morbid to think about haha.

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  12. NOT ENOUGH! It’s so unrealistic. I just think, in Divergent Tris barely thinks about her mother after she dies. IT’S YOUR MOTHER! SHE DIED! There was some grief at the end of Divergent, but in Insurgent she just thinks of Will. Fair enough, but not really. AND HER FATHER. DOES SHE NOT UNDERSTAND LOVE? X

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes! Exactly! Our parents play a huge part in our lives. Of course there are some who don’t have significant parents when they’re growing up but for most people, this isn’t the case.
      It’s not that easy to push aside the death of a parent!

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Very rarely do I see parents portrayed as something other than a plot device. It breaks my heart each and every time – I’m craving a book where the parent and the child have a close, mutually friendly relationship (while still being an authority, of course) like I do with my parents. It seems to me that there are only a few extremes and very rarely any middle ground.

    Parents in YA are either missing completely from the action, hard asses that make me want to punch them in the face, or are there to drive the main character into making a choice. There are books out there that break this mode, don’t get me wrong, but compared to the amount that fit into the three choices above the number is insignificant.

    It almost feels like authors take the easy road out and just kill the parents or don’t include them so that they don’t have to work on another authentic relationship besides the main character and their friends/significant other.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re spot on with this! There’s hardly enough in between when it comes to parent-child relationships in our novels. I’d love to see more close knit relationships between a young adult protagonist and their parents, one that is loving and something similar to what you or I have!
      It’s definitely taking the easy road when they either kill or have them as problematic parents. Maybe that’s the next step for 2016 books. This year we screamed for diversity, next year, for better parent representations and inclusion!

      Liked by 1 person

  14. I agree with you that I think it would be beneficial to have more positive adult characters in YA books. However, I do feel like having parents as minimal characters can be realistic (especially in contemporaries). I grew up at home with both of my parents. We had a good relationship, but not a super close one like I know some of my friends had with their parents. When I think back to my high school years (and they weren’t even that long ago!), my parents don’t make that many appearances in my memories. They really were these background figures. I mean, we ate dinner together basically every night and went to church every Sunday, but outside of that, they didn’t really have anything to do with my life. I didn’t go to them for advice or even for some quality hangout time. This isn’t to say they weren’t good parents, because they were. But if someone were to write a book about my high school years, they would probably ask where my parents were. Even though they were often present at home, they weren’t really present in my “story” if that makes sense. I was so much more focused on school and my friends and that boy that I had a crush on than what my parents were doing. So while I know some kids have a super close relationship with their parents (and I think that should be reflected in our YA books) I know firsthand that that’s not always the case and I think that’s what we’re seeing most of the time here.

    Liked by 3 people

    • I totally get what you mean, my life, when I think about it, it’s pretty much the same to yours. My parents play a background role in my life, however they serve as my authority figures and the people I answer to in certain situations. Sometimes in YA there are situations where a parent should be acting in a prominent role and the protagonist should be answering to them but then we don’t see it. But I am fairly content with the way parents are portrayed right now.

      Liked by 1 person

  15. I really do agree with you about the parental presence (or lack thereof) in YA fiction! I feel like whenever I read a young adult book, I pretty much always wonder where the heroine’s/hero’s parents are, especially when they start doing something unsavory. Yeah, maybe it’s the old soul in me, but I turn into that adult who starts saying, “Where’s your mother?” when the kids start getting all rebellious and whatnot. Wow, after writing that, I realized just how old I sound….
    Great post, and I definitely agree with you that there is a major lack of good parental figures who are able to give sage advice to their kids in YA. Hopefully that’s something we’ll see improved in the years to come within young adult fiction. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • Exactly! In the back of my mind I am always wondering where the parents are!
      Haha, oh gosh don’t worry, I’m an old soul too!
      Thank you, I’m so glad I could generate such a good discussion. This idea has been floating in my head for a while now!

      Liked by 1 person

  16. This is such a great discussion subject, Josie. I absolutely agree with you about the lack of parental presence in ya novels. It’s so annoying, and unrealistic, especially in contemporary stories. When it’s fantasy, it can be forgiven, I think, and even if they’re not here, we’re so dragged into a complicated world that it’s okay, I guess. But when it’s a contemporary, well it’s just unrealistic and it makes me SO mad to see that parents aren’t there.
    They are such a great part in every teenager’s lives. I always can understand when both parents aren’t there, because of divorce, separation, or something bigger and sadder than that. But they should still BE there, even in the background. Or at least some kind of parental figure should be. It’s so important. This makes me think about Emmy & Oliver (Robin Benway), and why I loved this book so much : parents are here, and they are ACTUALLY worrying about their children. That shouldn’t come off as surprising, but it is, and it’s so refreshing.
    You’re absolutely right about books being there to escape, and that’s what I love so much about reading, though. But if reading works so much, it’s because of the amazing world building that some authors are able to do. And because they can make it FEEL real. One of the reasons of that, in contemporary stories about young adults, is the presence of parents in their life, or a parental figure of some kind.
    Wow, sorry for the biiiiiiiiiiiig comment, ahah, once I start I can’t stop. Great discussion!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yep, it’s such an important element that needs to be added mainly into contemporaries! It’s so important I can’t even stress it enough. This lack of parents is kind of like a new trope in YA, that’s what I feel, and it needs to CHANGE.
      I’m so glad you enjoyed this discussion, Marie!

      Liked by 1 person

  17. And lol it never ceases to amaze me how different Western culture is from ours. In our culture we hardly ever leave our parent’s home unless it’s to study abroad or when getting married :p Even men don’t leave their mothers until they get married. I honestly though want to delay that as much as possible…call me lazy but I really like being taken care of XD

    Liked by 1 person

    • Haha! Oh yes our cultures are so different! But I know what you mean. Living with your parents means you can live without too much worrying about expensive responsibilities, and you never need Togo grocery shopping! 😂

      Liked by 1 person

  18. Ah, Josie you speak my mind! Thanks so much for this post. Honestly I am a little tired of seeing such awful parents in YA. Sure, YA is all about teens but family does have a huge influence on a teenager’s life. Realistic fiction or fantasy, I think it’s about time YA authors start portraying parents as more than stick figures in their books.

    Liked by 1 person

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