Why Are There So Many Dead Parents in YA?

Have you ever noticed how many dead parents there are in Young Adult lit? Leila Sales recently wrote a really interesting article in Publisher’s Weekly about the phenomenon. She says,

To quote Oscar Wilde, sort of: “To lose one parent may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose a parent in nearly every children’s book looks like lazy writing.” (I assume that is what Wilde meant.)

She goes on to explain that it’s lazy writing because it means fewer characters to write, instant sympathy for the orphan, and plus grownups are boring.

Of course, this isn’t exactly a new trend—just look at all the dead mothers in Disney movies like Bambi and Cinderella—but it’s something I’ve noticed since I’ve been reading a lot of YA lately. Just a quick glance at my YA bookshelf yielded these books:

The Hunger Games – dead father
Harry Potter – both parents are dead
Artemis Fowl – when the series starts, his father is presumed dead and his mother is insane
Beautiful Creatures – dead mother
Percy Jackson – father is absentee
Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians – Alcatraz is an orphan
The Golden Compass – Lyra is an orphan, but it’s complicated
I Am Number Four – both parents are dead
Nancy Drew – dead mother

Yeah, that’s a lot of dead/absent parents. But you know what? I don’t think it’s necessarily a sign of lazy writing. YA books are supposed to be about kids and their parent-free adventures. Having the parents around means having to explain how the kids are sneaking out of the house/evading the parents, which can bog the story down.

Plus, the adventures in some of these books wouldn’t be the same if the parents were there to offer guidance. Imagine Harry Potter showing up at Hogwarts already knowing everything about being a wizard. Part of the fun of the series was discovering the wizarding world along with Harry.

So I guess the lack of parents in YA just doesn’t bother me too much. What do you think about missing parents in YA? Lazy writing? Or no big deal?

Follow me on Twitter @kristendaemons

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  • Ruth

    I agree Kristen. Most parents wouldn’t allow their children to be put at risk fighting the forces of darkness.

  • http://www.daemonsbooks.com Amie

    Cool article Kristen. I never connected the dots before, but you are right – so many dead parents. The formula doesn’t bother me either. Can you imagine how boring Sookie and Bella would have been with their moms around to protect them from their hunky vampire boyfriends??

  • http://amckiereads.wordpress.com Amy

    I think you are right. Parents necessarily interfere, so the teen characters can’t do as much on their own if parents are still around.

  • Inez

    To lose one parent, Mr Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune to lose both looks like carelessness.