With Mothering Sunday approaching (15th March in case you have forgotten!), it’s a good time to think about mothers and how they are portrayed in YA fiction.
Many YA books have absent or problem parents as this is what enables the teen character to take centre stage and often make decisions or go on adventures not normally associated with their age group. However, even when mothers are absent or in the background, they can have a big impact on the protagonists or on the story line. Good mothers provide a safe haven for characters, absent mothers leave a hole that is hard to fill and the actions of bad mothers often overshadow the lives of their children.
The recurring and important theme is: mothers are important. Here are just a few of these important women:
The good mother – there are not so many of these but my favourite is:
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott – Marmee is the glue that holds the March girls together. She is the voice of reason and commonsense and she provides a loving home from which the girls explore life.
Mothers and death: The death of mothers and the impact their loss has on the YA protagonist is a common theme – Blood Red Road by Moira Young, Split Second by Sophie McKenzie, I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith, Looking for Alaska by John Green to name a few. My favourites include:
A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness – Conor’s mother is dying of cancer and the story follows Conor’s struggle to cope with the pain and the anger he feels.
Harry Potter series by JK Rowling – Lily is dead at the start of the series but it is the depth of her mother’s love for Harry and the way she protected him with her life that gave him the strength and power to face Voldemort.
The Year of the Rat by Clare Furniss – Pearl’s life is turned upside down by her mother’s sudden death and her difficulty in coping without her.
Weak or troubled mothers: In some stories the mothers are physically there but are weighed down by problems, maybe an abusive partner or maybe depression. These emotionally absent mothers often leave as much of hole in the teenager’s life than a physically absent mother: Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell, Finding Jennifer Jones by Anne Cassidy, Goodnight Mr Tom by Michelle Magorian, The Worst Girlfriend in the World by Sarra Manning. The following two books are powerful stories:
Blood Family by Anne Fine – Edward’s mother has had the life beaten out of her by her abusive partner. Edward’s treatment by his mother and his feelings for her overshadow his life.
Out of Easy by Ruta Sepetys – Josie dreams of a better life for herself, she dreams of college away from New Orleans but her mother’s life as a prostitute hangs heavily over her.
Mothers who leave: There is also the impact of mothers who have left, leaving a hole and confusion in the life of the YA protagonist – My Sister Lives on the Mantlepiece by Annabel Pitcher, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time by Mark Haddon, A book that I read recently and which fits this category:
The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson – Lennie’s mother left when she was young and she has been brought up in a happy home by her grandparents. However, following the sudden death of her sister, her mother’s absence is something that she reflects on.