The Hub was down on Father’s Day, so we weren’t able to share this post with you then. While it’s been two weeks since that day we honor dads, we didn’t want to miss the opportunity to point out some great dads in YA lit.
Young adult books are famous for their lack of good parenting. They’re replete with convicts, addicts, absentees, and the self-centered in place of solid dads and moms. Of course, there are a number of reasons for this. Chief among them is that teens want to read about teens, not parents! Also, if the ‘rents are in the way, how can an adventure or romance or avoidance of a universe-altering disaster take place? It can’t, because good parents would be telling their children things like, “I don’t think it’s a good idea for you to be in charge of the town by virtue of your ability to microwave things with your hands,” or “Don’t listen to the snake voice and be led into the scary underground tunnel to fight a deadly basilisk and the dark lord,” or “Stay away from sparkly boys who drive too fast and want to drink your blood.”
Despite the trends, there are some really excellent parents in YA novels. Since we’re in Father’s Day season, we’ll focus on dads and save the moms for another time.
As I talked with teen readers and others who enjoy YA, they gave many suggestions about solid fathers in YA novels. These heroes of the home seemed to fall into a few categories:
Great Dads Who Die
Harry Potter was most cited here, with James giving his life to save not only his infant son but the whole world. That’s a pretty good dad. Also, Katniss’s dad in The Hunger Games was rated as being a good father while he was still alive. My pick in this category is Mia’s dad in If I Stay (2010 Teens’ Top Ten) by Gayle Forman. He’s a wonderful father who willingly and happily gives up his life dreams so he can spend more time with his family. He’s a well-developed character who is integral to the life of his daughter. It’s really a beautiful relationship because it’s not perfect.
Dads Who Try Really Hard
We all know that sometimes, despite a dad’s best efforts, he just can’t fix everything for us. Charlie from Twilight was chosen in this category. He loves Bella so desperately that he becomes completely ineffective. D.J. Schwenk has a dad like this in Dairy Queen. He’s injured and can’t run the farm any longer, so to feel as though he is helpful, he starts cooking — badly! It gets better, and this father/daughter relationship is real and heart-warming. The number one pick here, though, is Laurel’s dad in the Wings (2012 Quick Picks) series by Aprilynne Pike. He’s a human who learns his daughter is really a changling fairie, loves her for who she is, and even attempts to fight off the supernatural forces that seek her destruction. He’s totally ineffective, but completely committed.
For this category, my helpers mentioned Ben and Cillian from The Knife of Never Letting Go, Luke in City of Bones, Matthew Cuthbert from Anne of Green Gables, Carlisle from Twilight, and all the Harry Potter father figures. Another is Katie Parker’s foster dad from In Between by Jenny B. Jones. He’s a pastor who includes this messed-up kid in his family and just loves her — the one thing she’s never really had.
So, where have all the good dads gone? Many YA writers are tucking them away in the pages of their novels.
Just as a side note … my ballot for all-time best literary dad, even though he’s not from a YA novel, must be cast for Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird (Outstanding Books for the College-Bound and Life-long Learners, Fiction). Okay, so the picture at the top of the post may have given that away. Which dad gets your vote?
— Michelle Blank, currently reading Five Flavors of Dumb by Anthony John