Let’s Talk About … Family Values in YA

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Hey dolls! I’ve been reading several contemporaries recently, and in doing so, realized how much I miss families being present in books. It’s near impossible to find a YA novel nowadays that doesn’t kill off parents or make them irrelevant towards the plot. In the very few novels where they are present, I can’t help but feel that they aren’t represented in the best light. There are a many novels that focus on teenagers dealing with parents who are abusive, alcoholics, or neglectful, but what ever happened to the books that didn’t have parents be a central issue? Sure, these conflicts are inevitably resolved in some way or another by the end of story, but why did it have to be a problem in the first place? Are wholesome families where the parents and children have wonderful relationships simply nonexistent? All I’m asking for is a novel where the protagonist has a supporting family, who helps them deal with other external conflicts.

The Absence of Parents

I understand how it could complicate matters if our dear, hormone-riddled teenagers had to request permission from their parents before embarking on a potentially dangerous adventure. There are many ways to work around this issue, but the simplest appears to be killing off the parents or making them absent for the vast majority of the novel. Awfully convenient, isn’t it? Now, the protagonist is free to roam as he/she pleases without fear of parental repercussions. This however, shouldn’t be the case. What ever happened to seeing parents loving their children enough to let them go? If the plot demands the parents to stay behind, I’m alright with that, but the author should have the initiate to consider the parents’ feelings and relevance to the story in this circumstance. Who doesn’t love an emotional departure? No two books are the same, and I’m aware that there are many other plot points that could prevent this from happening. I just find it rather odd that I almost never witness this event happening in literature.

Are Families Regarded As Important?

I miss profound family bonds. Even if these bonds are simply between a father and a daughter, or a mother and son, it matters not. I love characters who aren’t afraid to display their unconditional love for their family, and wish there were great family bonds in every novel I read. The issue is, families don’t appear to be as important in literature as they typically are in real life. Our culture and the media are fascinated by strong independent teenagers, and this is directly shown in the movies and novels it produces. Every time I watch a flick at the theater, the trailers advertised primarily revolve around individuals breaking away from their families to gain independence. Don’t get me wrong, independence is a wonderful trait, but I can’t help but feel a tad disappointed that protagonists so often lean away from relying on the love and support of their families.

Representation of Families Are Almost Never Whole

In nearly every novel I’ve ever read, the family unit isn’t whole. The parents are either divorced, deceased, or negligent towards their children. I understand that there are families like this in the world, and I think it’s wonderful when individuals are able to connect with fictional characters on a personal level. With that being said, it truly saddens me how challenging it is to find a novel that depicts an unimpaired family. I had the good fortune to mature in a household with four other siblings, and both my parents. I have such fond memories of my childhood, and to this day, relish the moments when I can relax and devote my full attention to my family. I’m not suggesting that the focus of a book has to be on an unbroken family, but I would appreciate it if they were shown more across literature as simply being there for the protagonist.

Books That Don’t Represent Whole Families

Here are a few books I really enjoyed, but they don’t represent any whole families.

  • Throne of Glass Series by Sarah J. Maas
  • Six of Crows Duology by Leigh Bardugo
  • Grishaverse Series by Leigh Bardugo
  • The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer
  • Renegades by Marissa Meyer
  • Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi
  • Heroes of Olympus Series by Rick Riordan
  • An Ember in the Ashes Trilogy by Sabaa Tahir
  • The Wrath & the Dawn Duology by Renee Ahdieh
  • Legend Trilogy by Marie Lu
  • The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins
  • Rebel of the Sands Trilogy by Alwyn Hamilton.

Has The “Traditional Family” Died?

Image result for the weasley family fanart

Ladies and gentlemen, please allow me to present to you the Weasley family – one of the loveliest fictional families in all of literature. Oh, who can’t adore this family? So much love! The traditional sense of family has definitely been altered throughout the ages, but I still admire it. The father being the ultimate provider and warrior for his wife and children, and the mother being the primary caretaker and protector. This nuclear family (a family group consisting of two parents and their children) is quiet prevalent in our culture today, but is not often represented in literature. I recently watched the movie, A Quiet Place, and was blown away by how brilliantly the director illustrated family values, and showed the beauty and importance family has – and in a post-apocalyptic setting, nonetheless!

A Few Of My Favorite Fictional, Nuclear Families

  • The Hughes family from Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson.
  • The Hubermann’s from The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.
  • The Grant family from Save the Date by Morgan Matson.
  • The March family from Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.
  • The Bennett family from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.

That’s all folks! What are your thoughts on family values in books and the absence of parents/nuclear families? What are some books you loved that had a whole family? Let me know in the comments! Thanks for reading!

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53 thoughts on “Let’s Talk About … Family Values in YA

  1. This is such a great discussion, and I recently saw a quiet place too and I totally agree with what you said about it representing family values and bonds. I was actually really surprised and moved by how strongly family was emphasized in the movie and I think it was done really well.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s gotten to the point where I am surprised when I read a book where 1) the family is unbroken or 2) the parents are present. I can see that there are more variations on families to be more inclusive. However, I think parents can be present and supportive without ruining the plot. Just have the protagonists go off while the parents are at work or in bed. Or maybe have the adventures take place while the parents are home, but the protagonists went out to a friend’s house/the store/the movies, etc. Or have the parents know what is happening and offer support. There are a lot of options here. It’s starting to feel like killing off the parents is a bit of lazy writing. After all, I don’t think most teens are prisoners in their own homes. They could theoretically have adventures while going about their day without their parents ruining it. Surely their parents don’t go everywhere with them!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m genuinely surprised when parents are included and the families are unbroken too. There can be so many other ways for authors to have their characters go on adventures, without having to kill off their moms and dads!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Lovely post, Kelly! ❤ I completely agree with you. Most YA books seem to have MCs who are orphans or whose families are absent or dysfunctional. I love Starr’s family from The Hate U Give. Her parents are so supportive.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I agree with you completely! I don’t mind some dysfunction in families but I want love as well. One of my favorite families growing up was the Fitzgeralds in The Great Brain Series about a fun and conniving boy and his family. Tom was always up to something but despite his family’s exasperation they loved him.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. This is a great post. I do think it’s not just YA but prevalent in the entire fantasy genre as well. Orphan is one of the biggest tropes. I do long for more books with supportive and loving families as well!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Yup, this is one of my biggest gripes with YA in general. The absence of a meddlesome family tends to be a wish fulfillment for teenagers, so authors take advantage of this and use it as an easy trope to kickstart a plot or give a reason for why the protagonist has “leave” lol. It’s pretty sad I think…like you say, it’s a lot more fulfilling and cathartic to read about a parent who lets the child go on their journey, and that’s mostly missing in YA fantasies I think. (A reason why I still enjoy contemporaries!) Excellent discussion Kelly! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  7. hoohoo!
    Great post! I was going to say how great I thought the Grant family from Save the Date was but then I saw you mentioned them as well. To be honest, I just love how Morgan Matson writes families and I would give everything to see more families portrayed like that. And I’m currentlx trying very hard to come up with more families but I honestly can’t think of any, other than those you’ve mentioned. Probably the Ganseys in the Raven Cycle?
    Kat 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Awesome post!
    I think this set up depends on genre too. In fantasy and dystopia parents either get killed off or the kids are sent away on missions, schools, factions, wars, you name it.

    In contemporary it seems they love the divorced, missing or abusive or neglectful parents.
    As far as i can tell at least one character will have to deal with one of these. If the MC has nice parents then their best friend won’t. It might just be my memory from my childhood being limited since i didn’t have many friends, but it’s pretty realistic, unfortunately. Although i didn’t know anyone with parents who were actually physically away all the time.

    I agree on Save the date. That family is cool! 😍

    Like

    1. Thanks, Norrie! In fantasy and dystopia that almost always seems to be the case. And even if the parents aren’t absent in the beginning of the book, they usually die by the end. Haha.

      I know there are unfortunately many kids who do have divorced or neglectful parents, but it’s a shame that it’s so difficult to find a book that depicts a whole, happy family.

      The Grant family was so much fun to read about! ❤️

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Great post! I agree with a lot of what you say and although i love YA contemporary, parents are one of the things i struggle with a lot especially when they are either completely absent/incompetant for no good reason and it being treated as inevitable that young aduls will hate/seperate/be completely misunderstood by their parents or uncool to like your parents because while this is the case for some people it isn’t for everyone! Some families i have loved recently are Simon’s family from Simon vs the homo sapiens agenda (i also absolutely loved how this family was presented in the film too!) and Starr’s family in the hate u give 😊😊

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  10. I agree with pretty much all of this. We have a ton of books exploring the breaking away and independence of teens and young adults, but it can also be rewarding to read about families just being together, or like you said, whole families once in a while. I love it when I find a YA that has a happy family, or even a family that’s not always happy but they love each other. I’m drawing a blank on examples at the moment other than Top Ten by Katie Cotugno- if I remember right the protag’s family had a regular Monopoly night or something on Fridays, and the love interest started coming over and participating. It was fun to read about!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m glad you feel the same way, Greg! I think it’s equally important for authors to show families in books that are functional, as well as dysfunctional.

      Aww that sounds so sweet! That reminds me of when my siblings and I would regularly play board games together. I’ll have to check out that book!

      Thanks for commenting! 😊

      Like

  11. Honestly, I think about this constantly and I’m always torn on what I think. On the one hand I appreciate the representation it gives to readers who may have been raised in a similar situation, as well as the contribution it has to the character/ story development. On the other, I’m tired of the lack of parental or adult presence period in novels. I feel like that contributes to this cultural view many are taking on that their family are unimportant; when in fact, it’s family who helps us find who we are as we grow and experience life.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. While I do appreciate the representation, it’s become so common to read about dysfunctional families, that I now find myself longing for functional ones. I think it definitely might contribute to the way families are viewed in today’s culture. Thanks for sharing!! ❤️

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Excellent thought provoking post Kelly. 👌💕

    I have been thinking about families and even though I don’t read YA that much these days, most of the books I read have a lot of dysfunctional family dynamics. And I do mind it when it becomes a lazy way out for an author. I do wonder if it also somehow starts reflecting how family values are shifting, how perhaps family is not something some people value that much these days. It certainly gives me a lot to think about, thanks. 😊

    Family is one of my core values. With that said, I cherish all books that explore healthy family dynamics and I absolutely adore Little Women. Such a beautiful book. ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I thought Starr’s family in The Hate U Give was great and I remember loving Lara Jeans father and sisters in PS I Love You but it’s so rare to see that. I’ve been thinking about this in post-apocalyptic fiction to- it makes sense when it’s adult fiction teenagers and children are presented as something to be kept safe. YA fic good adults are dead and all other adults are bad.
    I think it plays to the same idea though that adults get in the way of the adventure or at least from the standpoint of the writer its easier without that complication. I’ve noticed to a lot of YA books the driving force of the adventure starts with the disappearance of the parent. Why bother with family dynamics? I don’t know. This is such an interesting question in popular fiction today and does it represent a lack of that in our culture (or a lack of its popularity perhaps) or is it simply easier to write without it? Interesting question as always 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Oh, I was hoping you would bring up the Marches! I love Little Women, and the family values are a big part of why.

    I think the lack of family values in literature reflects the lack of family values in our society. It’s not that traditional families don’t exist, because they do, and they aren’t as in the minority as some people would lead you to believe. It’s because in general we don’t see that as the ideal anymore. That’s my opinion, anyway.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I adore the Marches in Little Women. Such a wonderful book!

      I definitely see what you mean. Especially with the increase in divorce rates over the past few decades, the “traditional” family doesn’t appear to be the most desirable type of family.

      Liked by 1 person

  15. What an excellent topic and post, personally, as I don’t read a lot of YA, I haven’t really notice this. Though, thinking about it, it seems to be something that’s taken over YA fiction, the dysfunctional family is far more convenient. And, has it in and of itself, become a cliché? Hmm…thoughtful!

    Liked by 1 person

  16. I totally agree with your first point! It really bothers me when parents are killed off just for the sake of making sure the MCs are on their own. I recently read Starry Eyes, and the two MCs are lovingly allowed to go hiking without any parental supervision. It just makes more sense, AND it’s heartwarming to read. Loved this post, Kelly! Thank you for the recommendations as well! ♥

    – Aimee @ Aimee, Always

    Liked by 1 person

  17. I didn’t realize this until recently when I actually read a couple of books with great parental figures… that’s when I figured out what was missing … Autoboyography definitely has one of the most wonderful family dynamic I have read in recent times 😊😊😊

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  18. I was literally thinking about this on Father’s day. I couldn’t think of a Father figure type character I truly adored in YA (and sometimes not just YA – I think in Fantasy too).

    As I get *cough* older, I find I really enjoy and love family dynamics way more than romance. I look back to book scenes that made cry and a lot of times it’s family scenes.

    I think that’s why I loved the Kiss Quotient (not YA I know) because it included a lot of family dynamics that enhanced the romance.

    I wish there was more!!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. There are so few father figure characters in literature that I love (the exception being Sirius Black and Hans Hubermann from the Book Thief haha).

      It always seems to be family moments that make me the most emotional as well! It’s easier for me to connect with the characters, and relate to their feelings!

      That’s so cool! I might have to check out the Kiss Quotient sometime! Thanks for commenting! ❤️

      Liked by 1 person

  19. I find it so annoying that families aren’t a huge part of most books! Most people have family in their lives on a daily basis, and having them killed off purely for convenience is just lazy. It could add so much to the story! That extra level of risk – of being caught, of putting loved ones in danger – would just give another layer to the story, so I don’t understand why authors don’t use that.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. So glad you feel the same way, Ashleigh! If convenience is the only reason family isn’t included in a plot, it feels awfully cheap! I agree that adding family and loved ones would add much more layers to the story!

      Thanks for sharing, doll! 💗

      Liked by 1 person

  20. Great post, Kelly! I think a lot of it is down to convenience for the plot. Once the idea of non-traditional or ‘broken’ families in contemporary literature was possibly seen as interesting or different or more reflective of the world, but maybe it has become a bit of a cliché…

    Liked by 2 people

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