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Finding a Strong Family Connection in YA…Yes, It Can Be Done!

2012 April 19
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These days it seems like a major complaint about young adult fiction is usually to do with the parents. Either they are absent, making it easier for the teen main characters to go out and conquer the world or find love or even join the circus, or the parents are abusive, neglectful, or in some cases are unable to take care of themselves, let alone their children. So it is too much to ask to find examples of strong and loving parents and families in YA books today?

I decided to hunt around through the books I’d read recently for examples of strong families and was pleased to find some great reading choices! These are books where the parents care and are actively involved in their children’s lives and books with families made stronger throughout because of the obvious and open love between parents, children, and siblings.

City of Orphans by Avi (Atheneum/Richard Jackson Books, 9781416971023) is the story of a thirteen-year-old newsboy, his family, and his new friend trying to survive in New York City in 1893. Though Maks’s family struggles to just scrape together enough money to pay their rent and eat, they do not hesitate at all to take in Willa, who has been orphaned and is living on the streets. Each family member works hard to earn money for their family. Each makes choices that benefits the entire family. This is a family that truly cares deeply for one another and will sacrifice anything to stay together.

Enchanted by Alethea Kontis (Harcourt, 9780547645704) is the story of a girl named Sunday who has to be very careful about the stories she writes, for they often come true. As the youngest of seven daughters named for the days of the week, Sunday is often overlooked, and she finds solace in a new friendship with an enchanted frog. One day, their friendship blooms into love, and with the power of a true love kiss, Sunday breaks the enchantment and stirs up all kinds of trouble! Though their love seems ill-fated, and Sunday’s family is not fond of their union, when they realize that Sunday will be miserable without her love, they pull together and do everything they can to see Sunday happy. By banding together, their powers create the perfect circumstances for true love to fully blossom.

Fighting Ruben Wolfe (2002 Best Books for Young Adults) by Markus Zusak (Arthur A. Levine, 9780439241885) is the story of two brothers, Cameron and Ruben, trying to assist their struggling working-class family after their father loses his job. To make some extra money, the boys join an underground boxing ring and learn not only how to hold their own in the ring, but also in life. One of the greatest lessons each boy learns is how to be a better brother. They grant themselves and each other new dignity and strengthen the makeup of their whole family as they work to help their father and mother pay the bills, bring their estranged brother back into the fold, and keep their sister from making some terrible life choices.

Flyaway by Lucy Christopher (The Chicken House, 9780545317719) is about a family dealing with grief and illness. Disaster strikes when Isla’s father has a heart attack while following the wild swans he loves so much. Isla, her mother, and her brother spend their time alternating between visiting him at the hospital and trying to convince Isla’s grandfather to go see his son. It is Isla and her work on a school project that finally helps her grandfather to get past his grief and to visit the hospital for the first time since his wife passed away. As the whole family hopes and prays for Isla’s father to get well, they forge new closeness, listen to each other clearly, and lend each other the strength to move forward through his recovery.

Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins (Dutton Juvenile, 9780525423287) features a girl with a wild style and a perfect sense of who she is, built up by a fabulous relationship with her two dads. Not only do Lola’s dads both encourage her to be exactly who she is, but she is a devoted daughter, as well. Yes, of course, there are those teen moments when Lola sneaks out of the house … or sneaks in a boy, but she does all she can to not damage her family’s strong bond.

Tall Story by Candy Gourley (Random House Children’s, 9780385618946) features siblings from opposite ends of the world coming to live together for the first time. Andi is a peanut of a girl, obsessed with basketball, and excited to have her older brother in her life … until Bernardo actually comes and she realizes he’s a GIANT. Bernardo is eight feet tall. At first, Andi has a hard time relating to Bernardo, but soon the love that their mother and stepfather have always carefully fostered–though they’ve lived far apart–returns in full force.

And how can I forget to mention one of my favorite strong families in YA literature? I have to give a shout out to J.K. Rowling’s Weasley family from the Harry Potter series. That is a family that is literally prepared to fight evil for one another!

What about you–have you read any books featuring strong families? I’d love to add more to this list!

— Jessica Miller, currently reading Circus Galacticus by Deva Fagan and A Clash of Kings by George R. R. Martin.

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16 Responses
  1. April 19, 2012

    There are two titles I’ve read recently and they’re also on the Carnegie shortlist for 2012.

    My Name is Mina – David Almond: although Mina’s father is absent because he has died, Mina and her mother have a wonderful, supportive relationship with each other and their memories of him.

    Also, Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys. The strength, support and love in Lina’s immediate and extended family during the Soviet’s gulag system of imprisonment is inspiring.

  2. Jessica M permalink
    April 19, 2012

    I also remembered that the Martin family in Maureen Johnson’s Suite Scarlett and Scarlett Fever have their issues, but are also devoted to one another!

  3. April 19, 2012

    Mia’s parents in If I Stay by Gayle Forman are as cool as they are loving. She had an amazing family.

  4. April 19, 2012

    I would also say anything and everything by Australian author, Melina Marchetta. Family is really a central focus in all of her books, and she often writes about the breakdown of the family unit (‘The Piper’s Son’ & ‘Saving Francesca’) unconventional families (‘Looking For Alibrandi’) or the absence and search for family and place (‘Lumatere Chronicles’ series, but especially ‘On The Jellicoe Road’).

    In interviews Melina talks a lot about how important her family is to her, and that definitely comes across in all of her books.

  5. April 19, 2012

    I can’t say enough good things about “Enchanted.”

    You’ve made me want to read “City of Orphans,” too.

  6. April 19, 2012

    I second Mia’s comment about If I Stay. I also just read Big Girl Small, one of this year’s Alex Award winners, and liked how loving and supportive the family was.

  7. Erin Daly permalink
    April 20, 2012

    In “The Disenchantments” by Nina LaCour, Colby is very close to both of his parents and his uncle. He calls them on the phone, sometimes in the middle of the night, starting conversations by say, “It’s me, everything’s fine.”

    Also Vera Dietz and her Dad have a sometimes strained, but loving relationship in “Please Ignore Vera Dietz”.

  8. Riley permalink
    April 20, 2012

    I can’t believe you forgot John Green’s latest masterpiece, “The Fault in Our Stars”! The parents of all three main characters (Hazel, Augustus, and Isaac) are all incredibly caring (selfless, even!) and active in the lives of their children. This is a must-have on your list!

  9. Jessica M permalink
    April 20, 2012

    Ah. That is, of course, because I’m slightly ashamed to say I have not read The Fault in Our Stars yet!! It’s on my list to read, though, I swear!!

    • Riley permalink
      April 23, 2012

      You’ve got to put it at the top of your list! Probably my favorite book of the year, so far!

  10. Cinde S permalink
    April 22, 2012

    The Silence of Murder by Dandi Daley Mackall (2011, Knopf Books for Young Readers, 9780375868962) is a mystery that really centers on the love and protectiveness that 17-year-old Hope Long feels for her older brother, who just quit talking several years earlier (selective mutism, a disorder I had never heard of until I read this book). When Jeremy is accused of killing the high school baseball coach, Hope is determined to prove his innocence. The mother seems to fit the very negative stereotype described by those complaining about young adult fiction–but the family ties are really stronger than they first appear. And another good title where the family relationship is not what it first appears is Wolf Mark by Joseph Bruchac, Tu Books, 9781600606618, an action- adventure, suspense novel with a different take on vampires and shapeshifters who use their skills for the government.

  11. Molly C permalink
    April 22, 2012

    Please Ignore Vera Dietz (A.S. King) is a great one for a father-daughter relationship, one that comes together over the course of the novel instead of falling apart. The dad has his shortcomings but really loves his daughter! Granted, the mother is absent, but I think it’s still a worthwhile read for the father-daughter connection.

  12. Dave Combe permalink
    April 25, 2012

    Be sure to read the wonderful new YA novel from Simon and Schuster published in Feb: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, by Benjamin Alire Saenz. Great example of strong, supportive families.

  13. May 8, 2012

    What a refreshing bibliography. Thank you for compiling and sharing. This will be put to good use with some of my patrons looking for this exact thing. Might I add a few:

    “Wonder” by RJ Palacio and “I’ll Be There” by Heather Goldberg Sloan

Trackbacks and Pingbacks

  1. AletheaKontis.com » Blog Archive » All In the Family
  2. Top Picks Thursday 04-26-2012 « The Author Chronicles

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