Sunday, 26 March 2017

The absence of Mothers in YA literature...

How many YA books have you read? Well, I'm guessing if you're over here at my blog, then it's quite a few - and what you may have consciously, or not consciously, noted is the absence of positive mother figures in YA literature - especially in paranormal and fantasy genre. 
The YA Author Mother. Me and my girls last mother's

This is most likely because that genre is so closely related to the traditional fairytale genre, where if fairytales are to be believed, reflected a world where all parents were either murdering psychopath, prone to premature and inconsiderate death, or happy to sell their children to the devil for the price of a rose. 

Yes, parents are lacking in YA literature and it wasn't until I went to defend the role of parent (what with being a pretty fabulous, engaged, connected and present mother to my own two daughters) that I realised that mothers fared pretty poorly in my own books, too. 

In the Knight Trilogy, she is a perfectly adequate mother, wrapped up a little in her own world as a children's illustrator, but she is divorced and as her daughter, Mina, has become an adolescent, she is increasingly distant, finding her own relationship, and marriage, with a man, becoming pregnant and effectively starting over - leaving Mina in a strange kind of limbo land in which her mother has moved on and started over, not quite leaving Mina behind, but certainly giving her the space and freedom to move on. 

In Beautiful Freaks, Kaspian is an orphan, raised by Professor Lockhart, so the absence of a mother is stark and painful - and perhaps, Kaspian's self-destructive relationship with the slightly older, exotic Evangeline Valentine is proof of his desire to reclaim the relationship he lost. 

Then there is When Sorrows Come, in which Opehlia's mother suffers Bi-Polar and is admitted to psychiatric units on a regular basis. 

And then I Defy You, Stars, in which Juliet's parent are divorced and Juliet finds herself floating between two parental spaces, both loving in their own way, but inadequate in stability and understanding, causing her to fall between the gaps. 

And so... as a YA author I have perpetuated the orphan, remote parent, step-parent myth structure found in so many YA and children's literature. 


There are multiple reasons why there is an absence of the mother in children's literature, and primarily it is a purely logistic reason - it's difficult to have children and teens marauding around on exciting fantastical adventures with a helicopter parent in tow - I mean, seriously, I would be somewhat worried if my sixteen year old daughter continually spent days and nights missing in the woodland, or if my eighteen year old son was visiting dubious gentleman's clubs until 3-4am in the morning. There would be curfews and arguments and possibly, even police involvement. 

And then there is the psychology....

Well adjusted, perfectly balanced, well nurtured, well provided for, privileged children don't often make for the greatest of rebels or adventurers - and that's what leads many YA and children's story protagonists to go seeking adventure  - and often escape. And often, the surest way to create an adventurer / escapist is for their true and real world to be so awful that they seek out a new world. 

Just think about Harry Potter with its orphan / changeling tropes as a perfect example of parental angst and dysfunction, or Twilight with its divorce and remarriage complications, or The Hunger Games where war and politics has torn the family structure apart, or Fallen series, where so broken is the relationship with her parents, that she is sent to a boarding school, or Forbidden where parental neglect leads to brother and sister incest, or the fairytales of Cinderella, Snow White, Beauty and The Beast, all of which demonstrate the woeful lack of positive parenting values and functional family life. 

Increasingly aware of this, I have attempted to redress some of that balance in my latest series; as a mother, I was saddened that there was an erosion of motherhood in YA and children's literature, that the genre almost perpetuates an expectation that parents and mothers in particular will inevitably let you down. I have tried to write in a stronger, more caring, more present mother in The Meadowsweet Chronicles, but it isn't easy. It seems that along with that nurture and care, comes and involvement in characters' lives that is somewhat limiting to the character's ability to go out and explore. And I realise as I am typing this that in the great sweep of Meadowsweet Chronicles (Currently Book 4 and running at over 400k words and multiple family lines - there is still ONLY one almost 'functional' mother figure, with a whole host of characters who are distanced, divorced or separated from their mothers and fathers.) 

So, this Mother's Day as I celebrate the blessing of my own amazing mother, and being a mother who is respected, blessed, loved and valued - perhaps I need to make a more conscious effort of reflecting the incredibly powerful relationship between mothers and their children in our literature - hopefully, we can demonstrate that with positive mothering, our offspring can still lead adventurous, joyful, exciting, magical lives but in the knowledge that waiting at home is someone who will always have their backs. 


  1. I always thought there's an element of the readers reaching an age where they can imagine themselves as capable of doing intimidating things, without their mother's help. Teens would be mortified if you implied they ran to their parents for every little thing, but it happens quite often, LOL

    1. Yes, I think it's very much about emancipation and freedom, too. Thanks for stopping by Angelica x