Celebrate Cousins Day in YA Lit
Did you know that today is unofficially Cousins Day? Neither did I until I discovered that several different websites devoted to strange and unique holidays both designate today as the day to celebrate the bond between cousins.
I didn’t see my cousins much growing up but I do have fond memories of the few times we did get together on vacation. I thought it might be fun to see how many YA books I could find involving cousins.
The obvious book that immediately comes to mind is We Were Liars by E. Lockhart. Not only have I read it recently, but it’s also been featured here by Carly Pansulla in her July 15th post, “Summer Reading: Vacation Destination Books.” Carly’s description of the book is great so if you want to know more about it, check out her post. I will only say that the main narrator, Cady Sinclair, has great memories of spending summers with her parents and aunts and her first cousins, Mirren and Johnny, at their family’s private island off the coast of Cape Cod… until one fateful summer when everything changes.
Another notable book featuring first cousins is meg rosoff’s 2005 Michael L. Printz Award winning how i live now. This riveting novel is narrated from 15-year-old Daisy’s point of view. She leaves Manhattan to stay with her cousins Osbert, Edmond and Isaac (twins), and Piper, the youngest, on a remote farm in England. Soon after Daisy settles into their farmhouse, her Aunt Penn becomes stranded in Oslo and terrorists invade and occupy England. Daisy and her cousin Edmond fall in love, but when soldiers take over the farm, the boys and girls are separated and sent away to different places. Daisy and Piper struggle to stay alive in the midst of this devastating invasion. The book was made into a film that was released in November 2013.
Similarly, Kat Brauning’s How We Fall, coming out in November, is about teenaged Jackie who is falling for her cousin Marcus and neglecting her best friend Ellie. After Ellie disappears and is feared dead, Jackie’s wracked with guilt. She feels guilty about failing her friend and about her relationship with Marcus because she knows it would destroy both of their families. They break up and Marcus starts dating someone else but that only makes things worse.
I know that some people may object to romantic relationships between cousins, particularly first cousins, and I have no comment except to say that marriage between cousins is not uncommon or illegal in all other countries or even in all US states. John Green even made a video on this topic in 2013.
Green mentioned the marriage between Charles Darwin and his cousin Emma Wedgwood in the video. Their real life love is beautifully portrayed in Deborah Heiligman’s nonfiction biography Charles and Emma: The Darwin’s Leap of Faith, winner of the first YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Award in 2010 and 2010 Michael L. Printz Honor book.
In Kat Beyer’s The Demon Catchers of Milan (2012) 16-year-old Mia leaves her family in New York to stay with distant relatives in Milan, Italy after surviving being possessed by a demon. She taken in by Giuliano, her elderly first cousin twice removed and falls for charming and gorgeous third cousin Emilio as she studies her family’s heritage of demon catching in order to stay alive.
There are also a number of YA books where cousins are not romantically involved with one other.
Amy Gordon’s middle grade book Painting the Rainbow (2014) is about two 13-year-old cousins who, during their annual month-long visit to their family’s New Hampshire lake house in 1965, uncover hints of a family secret dating back to World War II.
In 1814 London, after three cousins discover their magical powers and family lineage of witchcraft, accidentally open the gates to the underworld allowing the spirits of dark witches known as the Greymalkin Sisters to hunt and kill young debutante witches for their powers in Alyxandra Harvey’s Breath of Frost (2014).
Ellen Wittlinger’s Zigzag (2005) involves a road trip that high school junior Robin ends up going on with her aunt Dory and Dory’s grieving, troubled kids after Robin’s boyfriend Chris leaves her to take a study program in Rome instead of spending the summer with her. During the road trip, Robin reconnects with her long-absent father; and finds new ideas for a future that doesn’t revolve around Chris.
In many YA books, cousins don’t even like each other very much. Gabrielle Zevin’s All These Things I’ve Done (2011) is set in a futuristic world where chocolate and coffee is illegal. Anya’s father was a crime boss selling chocolate on the black market. Her cousin Jakov “Jacks” is her father’s half brother’s illegitimate son who keeps trying to wrestle control of the family business away from Anya. Anya’s never really liked Jacks ever since he got drunk at a family wedding and tried to touch her breast when she was 13.
These are just some of the books I’ve found with characters who are cousins. I’m sure I’ve missed a lot so I hope you will help me out with some other suggestions!
Sharon Rawlins, currently reading The Falconer by Elizabeth May