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The YA absent parent trope. Will anyone buck the trend?


The YA absent parent trope.  Will anyone buck the trend?



It seems to me that if you’re going to be a character in a YA story, you definitely don’t want to be the main character’s parent. Especially their mother. Your life expectancy is either non-existent or very very short. If you do somehow manage to stay alive for the whole book, you’re going to have to be absent in some way. Because YA protagonists don’t seem to be allowed to have two parents.  Sometimes YA contemporary skips this trope, but YA fantasy?  It seems to be almost never.

It makes me sigh internally everytime I start another book and YET AGAIN, the first thing we find out is the protagonist is an orphan. Or at least one parent is dead. I mean, it can be a great plot point, except it is just so overdone.

Recently, I was scouring my bookshelf for a photo I wanted to post for a Bookstagram challenge. The prompt was “Father figure” and although of course I could find books with a father or father figure in them, I started to realize just how many YA fantasy books employ this trope. In fact, once I started thinking about it, I could hardly find any books in this genre where both parents were present and alive the whole way through the story. It made me start to wonder why, and whether anyone has/would buck the trend.

Some of the reasons I assume authors use this trope is:

  • To make the protagonist seem more vulnerable, and then more independent and brave as the story progresses
  • So there are no parents who would, rightly so, protest at their teenage child running off to fight monsters or challenge kings
  • To add a plot line where the main character needs to solve the mystery of what happened to the missing parent.


I mean, siblings seem to be ok. Uncles, sometimes even grandparents, all ok. Just not two parents.  Don’t get me wrong, clearly the reasons above work, because they often keep us invested in the story, but, do we need them to be included Every. Single. Time?


How do you feel about this particular trope? Do you know any YA fantasy books that have both parents of the protagonist alive and in their life? Do you think your own situation impacts on the way you feel about it? (Ie if you have both parents in your life, do you think that disconnects you from a main character who doesn’t or does it make no difference? And vice versa)

I am really interested to hear other readers’ opinions on this!




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16 thoughts on “The YA absent parent trope. Will anyone buck the trend?”

    1. I KNOW! I’m hoping someone will be able to name a bunch of them, but I don’t think there’s many! I stood in front of my bookshelves for ages thinking surely I could find some… 🤷🏼‍♀️

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I think it’s primarily for the second reason you mentioned; involved parental figures would stifle a lot of interesting stories, because no mother in her right mind wants her kid running off to fight demons. It does get a bit old, but it strikes me as a kind of necessary evil of the YA genre.


  2. Okay so now I’m tempted to scour shelves for a YA fantasy with both parents around XD I think it tends to go hand in hand with the “Chosen One” trope; characters can’t fulfil the prophecy if their parents say no, type thing (also, unrelated, I love your photography!!)


  3. Even YA contemporary is riddled with parents who are either absent or just really bad/mean/distant. I don’t get it!! As a new mom myself, this has started to bother me. It makes me feel like I don’t have a chance 😦 Whenever I come across a book these days with “good” parents, I’m like “Yaaassss!”

    Lol. Maybe I’ll write my own fantasy book & my heroine will have 2 decent solid parents. Although I can picture an editor now telling me I should kill one off… 😀


  4. I’m not a huge fan of this trope but one book that comes to mind where both parents are present is Song of the Current by Sarah Tolcser. The main character is pretty much best friends with her dad, although her parents don’t live together she still sees her mother and her mother isn’t some evil wench

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Wonderful post! Whenever I see a parent in YA I already know not to get too attached because they’ll die less than 5% into the book. Or, they will somehow end up being the secret bad guy later on. Also, I’m absolutely loving your blog! It’s aesthetic goals!


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