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Let’s Hear it For the Dads in YA Books

I know it’s very common for parents, especially fathers, to be absent or portrayed negatively in YA books. Not every father is Atticus Finch, but there are more dads in teen books that are loving and supportive than you might think. Since Sunday is Father’s Day, I wanted to celebrate some admirable dads found in YA books.

All I can think is that I want her more than anything. I want her more than I’ve ever wanted anything ever.” (Bobby, 16, The First Part Last by Angela Johnson, winner of the 2004 Michael Printz Award and 2004 Coretta Scott King Award)

Photo Jun 17, 8 03 36 PMThis is the book I immediately think of when I think of fathers in YA books. It might have been published in 2003 but it’s still fresh in my mind, even after all the years since I first read it. It’s not just that it’s about a teen father, but it’s also because it’s written from the father’s point of view instead of the mother’s. In this companion book to Heaven, Bobby is an African American teenager struggling to raise his adored baby daughter Feather by himself after the baby’s mother tragically dies.

 

“I am a father.” “I am Jupiter’s father.” “I will always be Jupiter’s father.” (Joseph, 14, Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt, coming out November 3, 2015)

Photo Jun 17, 9 25 51 PMJoseph may be practically a child himself, but by aged thirteen he had been incarcerated for allegedly trying to kill a teacher, and is the father of a three-month-old daughter named Jupiter that he’s never seen. He will do anything he can to find her. This is a beautifully written story that will make you cry but also uplift you.

 

 

“I’m glad to hear you think you ought to feel guilty.” “I was beginning to wonder whether we’d brought you up properly.” (Derk, The Dark Lord of Derkholm by Diana Wynne Jones)

Photo Jun 17, 7 17 37 PMAfter they are unwillingly chosen as tour leaders, unconventional wizard Derk and his magical family try to stop the devastating tours of their world arranged by the tyrannical Mr. Chesney. Derk specializes in genetics, specifically in creating new animals & the family consists of both humans and animals (that talk). Teenaged son Blake has a fifteen-year-old brother, Kit, a griffin. Kit’s murderously angry with Mr. Chesney for his disrespectful treatment of Derk and the family and the quote above is what Derk says in response to Kit’s confession that he wanted to kill Mr. Chesney but felt guilty about it. Blake wants to attend Wizard’s University but his father Derk is dead set against it. Mara, Blake’s mom says, “…Your father thinks, rightly or wrongly, that you’ll end up as miserable as he was, or you’ll find yourself doing nothing but look after the tours like the rest of them. And that would break his heart, Blake.”

“My baby girl is a teenager – I worry about everything. ¿Cariña!” “Can we hire someone to guard Maisie for the next several years? Maybe a Navy SEAL?” (Maisie’s dad, Dangerous by Shannon Hale)

Photo Jun 17, 8 02 27 PMWhen Maisie Danger Brown wins a spot at a NASA-like summer boot camp in space, she doesn’t expect to uncover a conspiracy that could destroy the world. Despite only having one hand Maisie must live up to her name to save everyone she loves. Since her dad likes research and the boot camp was started to “ignite the love of science in the teenage mind,” according to information Maisie finds online, her dad’s in favor of Maisie going.

 

“You have a brain. A good one. Which means that no machine is a match for you. Now” —he plopped the busted gizmo on the worktable in front of me and yanked a screwdriver out of my tool belt, wrapping my six-year-old fingers around it—“you can come back inside when you’ve fixed the toaster.” (Evie’s dad, Mothership (Ever-Expanding Universe Series #1) by Martin Leicht and Isla Neal)

Photo Jun 17, 9 57 53 PMEvie’s dad wants her to be self-sufficient and drags her into the garage when she’s six-years-old and forces her to show him that she can fix anything. He may appear to be a bit harsh but his insistence that she be like MacGyver comes in handy after the airship for pregnant girls she’s been shipped off to after she gets pregnant gets hijacked by commandos. She has to escape after she discovers that her teachers are aliens who want to use her baby to repopulate their species in this hilarious space adventure set in 2074.

 

“You are not a grenade, not to us. Thinking about you dying makes us sad, Hazel, but you are not a grenade. You are amazing. You can’t know, sweetie, because you’ve never had a baby become a brilliant young reader with a side interest in horrible television shows, but the joy you bring us is so much greater than the sadness we feel about your illness.” (Hazel’s dad, The Fault in Our Stars by John Green)

fault-our-stars-movie-posterI can’t imagine there’s anyone who doesn’t know the plot! But, just in case, the very short description is that it’s a sad but beautifully written story of a teenage girl and boy who both have cancer who meet at a cancer support group and fall in love.

 

 

“Because I can’t stand watching all that loneliness that lives inside you. Because I love you, Ari.” (Ari’s dad, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz, 2013 Michael Printz Honor Award, 2013 Pura Belpre Award, 2013 Stonewall Book Award)

aristotle and dante benjamin alire saenz cover printz award sealFifteen-year-old Ari Mendoza is an angry loner with a brother in prison, but when he meets Dante Quintana they become friends. This enables Ari to start asking questions about himself, his parents, and his family that he has never asked before. Ari’s dad doesn’t talk much and Ari doesn’t understand him. He has to smile at the way Dante and his Dad get along – “the easy and affectionate way they talked to each other as if love between a father and a son was simple and uncomplicated.” Ari’s dad has to deal with what the Vietnam War did to him and Ari has to bear the journey to becoming a man, including acknowledging his feelings for Dante. Both Ari’s and Dante’s parents are very loving and supportive of their sons. Despite Dante’s family being wealthier and better educated than Ari’s, both families have a lot in common. Dante says, “Our parents are really weird.” Ari asks, “Because they love us? That’s not so weird.” And Dante says, “It’s how they love us that’s weird” and Ari says, “Beautiful.”

 

“I made a promise to your mother. I told her I’d take good care of you, put you all before myself or anyone else.” (Lupita’s dad, Under the Mesquite by Guadalupe Garcia McCall, 2012 William C. Morris YA Debut Award Finalist, 2012 Pura Belpré Author Award )

mesquite_webAfter her mother gets cancer, Lupita has to juggle even more responsibilities as the oldest girl in the family. Her father is away working a lot of pay for her mother’s medical bills but he loves her and her seven siblings. He wants her to be safe and doesn’t want to let her go away for college, but Lupita wants to go places, see new things and meet new people.

 

“We didn’t expect you to find your calling so young,” “But you did. And we’ll do our best to make it happen.” (Siobhan’s dad, The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondheim by E.K. Johnston, 2015 William C. Morris Award Finalist)

the story of owenIn an alternate world where overuse of fossil fuels has led to the existence of destructive and death bringing dragons, teenager Owen is carrying on the Canadian family tradition by training to be a dragon slayer. Owen, his bard Siobhan, his father Aodhan and Aunt Lottie, both legendary dragon slayers, and friends search for the source of the growing dragon threat. Owen’s dad is away a lot slaying dragons and Siobhan’s parents aren’t exactly happy that she’s in possible danger as she records Owen’s dragon killing exploits but both families love and support their children. Siobhan was starting to “get the impression that he (Aodhan) really didn’t like being an absentee father, but it was the nature of his job so he caught up whenever he could.”

I know that the Bella’s dad in the Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer, and Park’s dad in Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell are also good guys but I didn’t include them because I wanted to mention some that might not have been as obvious (The Fault in Our Stars being the exception).

I know I’ve missed others. What books would you add to this list?

-Sharon Rawlins, currently reading The Ring and the Crown by Melissa de la Cruz

 

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Sharon Rawlins

Sharon is the Youth Services Specialist at the NJ State Library in Trenton, NJ

3 Comments

  1. Jennifer Cottrill Jennifer Cottrill

    The father in Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A. S. King is a wonderfully round, supportive-if-sometimes-flawed father. Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell has a similarly flawed but dedicated father. Both of these fathers parent their teens when the mother is the absentee parent–and handle their girls’ struggles to manage their relationships with these absentee mothers–admirably. Actually, A. S. King presents another humanly flawed but trying-to-do-better dad in Reality Boy as well.

  2. Sharon Rawlins Sharon Rawlins

    Thanks, Jennifer! great suggestions. I had thought of Vera Deitz too but couldn’t find my copy at home in all the piles of books in time to double check it & find a good quote to include it here. I haven’t read Fangirl (shocking I know!) – although I own it. I also haven’t gotten to Reality Boy yet either.

    I did read King’s Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future and the dad in it is also flawed but trying admirably to cope with having to raise his daughter after his wife’s suicide when Glory was very young. I think all of King’s books portray parents as fully rounded characters that aren’t perfect but are trying to deal with life the best they can. I love her books and am looking forward to her new one I Crawl Through It.

  3. Shelley Diaz Shelley Diaz

    Nice list! Jessica Verdi’s upcoming What You Left Behind takes a realistic look at a teen dad.

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