Ten: Fathers and Mothers, Daughters and Sons

It’s not uncommon for parents to play a minimal role — or no role at all — in children’s and YA fiction. It gives the protagonists additional space and agency to explore themselves and their world, and allows readers to do so vicariously. Even so, the parent-child relationship remains an important one for young readers, and plenty of books offer insight into both its challenges and its potential. This week’s Ten suggests that even when parents are distant, even when they break trust, there is a place for hope in love and the possibility of restoration.

A Crooked Kind of Perfect by Linda Urban
Zoe’s dreams and her father’s psychological limitations come into conflict, introducing new tension into a quirky but loving father-daughter relationship. Growth in both characters makes this a very satisfying story.

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
Conor’s mother is sick in the hospital, and his father moved away years ago, leaving Conor largely on his own to wrestle with the changes promised by his mother’s illness. The monster’s stories — and Conor’s own — help to reveal the truth of his feelings and heal the breach that protective omissions have made in Conor’s relationship with his mother.

Cosmic by Frank Cottrell Boyce
The theme of defining “dadliness” runs throughout the story, and almost every character gets a chance to weigh in, without the novel ever feeling didactic. Liam pulls the threads together as he figures out how to fill the role of parent in the midst of a crisis.

Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Adichie
Kambili’s father is dangerously obsessed with religious perfection, and frequently abuses his wife and children in an effort to bring them into line with his standards of behaviour. Purple Hibiscus is about Kambili’s gradual development as she discovers a freer faith and pride in her African heritage through time spent with her aunt and cousins.

Under the Mesquite by Guadalupe Garcia McCall
Though Lupita’s parents are absent through much of the novel, the relationship that Lupita has with her mother, in particular, is strongly felt throughout. Lupita grieves her mother’s illness even as she struggles to fill her place in caring for her younger siblings, and the deepening of her spirit that results is beautifully depicted through the novel’s poetic form.

Level Up by Gene Luen Yang and Thien Pham
Dennis struggles to reconcile his own talents and wishes with the dreams that his recently deceased father held for him. Discovering the basis for those dreams and a father-love more constant than he’d thought allows Dennis to see new possibilities for negotiating the distance between the two paths.

The Sad Book by Michael Rosen
Michael looks at the parent-child relationship from the other side, narrating his experience of grief following the death of his son. The Sad Book is a picture book for older readers.

Kate by Jean Little
Kate’s growing interest in her Jewish heritage runs up against her father’s rejection of his own. Her determination to learn anyway makes for a difficult year for Kate, but Little does provide some resolution in the end.
(Shine, Coconut Moon addresses similar themes)

Born to Rock by Gordon Korman
Just when his carefully-planned life is falling down around him, Leo discovers the identity of the father he never knew — punk rocker Marion X. McMurphy. Determined to get to know his dad, and maybe figure out that part of his makeup that’s never quite fit, Leo decides to join his dad’s reunion tour as a roadie. A bit more mature than most of Korman’s novels, but still full of his trademark humour.

The First Part Last by Angela Johnson
Sixteen year old Bobby describes his life as a single father to his daughter, Feather. The narrative jumps back and forth between the present and the months leading up to Feather’s birth, as Bobby and his girlfriend, Nia, struggle to decide whether to raise their child or give her up for adoption.


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