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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