As I’m sure you know, Mother’s Day was yesterday. Which, of course, got me thinking about recent depictions of mothers in YA books. For years now, especially with the rise of more romance-centric stories and dystopian adventures, the majority of the YA I’ve encountered has been heavily focused on the dynamics between teenagers. Which is all well and good, and obviously of interest to the target audience as well as a hugely important facet of adolescent life and of growing up.
Lately, though, I’ve been seeing more and more meaty storylines about relationships between adults and teens—storylines that remind me of YA from the ‘70s and ‘80s, which dealt quite a lot with intergenerational issues—explorations of the gradual shifts that lead to teenagers and adults seeing each other as actual people, and then eventually, as equals. Here are three of the more interesting mother-daughter relationships I’ve come across recently:
Faith and Myrtle, from The Lie Tree, by Frances Hardinge
The Lie Tree is about evolution, the nature of truth, passion and obsession, and about growing up female in a strictly patriarchal environment. It’s a murder mystery starring a girl who adores her father and shares his interests, but who is constantly underestimated and dismissed because of her sex. 14-year-old Faith has very little respect for her mother, who she views as silly and vapid and concerned with all the “wrong” things—I imagined her as a Victorian era version of Julie Cooper—but as she begins to think about and recognize social constructs, to mull over how they have affected her, she starts to see her mother’s actions and behavior entirely differently. Hardinge does a beautiful, beautiful job of allowing Faith’s realizations to come subtly and organically—of not changing Myrtle and who she is, but changing Faith’s perception of her. It’s an especially lovely aspect of an entirely fantastic book.
Anna and Cora, from American Girls, by Alison Umminger
We never actually see Anna and Cora together in American Girls—just before the book begins, Anna steals Cora’s wife’s credit card and hops on a plane to Los Angeles—but their relationship is a huge part of the book, as is Anna’s sister’s relationship with their mother. As in The Lie Tree, Anna understands her mother a whole lot more by the end of the book, but her realizations lead to an entirely different place—it ends up being more about making peace with a lack of connection than about the strengthening of a connection. And that’s a hard emotional arc—and definitely not one that gets much play around Mother’s Day!—but one that will quietly resonate with a lot of readers.
Hope and Dess and Robin, from Peas and Carrots, by Tanita S. Davis
Hope and Dess are about the same age, but Hope is Robin’s biological daughter, while Dess has just entered the household as Robin’s foster daughter. On top of dealing sensitively and thoughtfully with economic class and race and body image, Peas and Carrots is about two girls with vastly different worldviews and life experience learning to coexist in the same space, to share a family, to eventually become family.
Next up on my list to read is Jenny Downham’s Unbecoming, which features not one generation of mother-daughter relationship issues, but TWO. What about you? Any related recommendations for me?
In addition to running a library in rural Maine, Leila Roy blogs at Bookshelves of Doom, is currently serving on the Amelia Bloomer Project committee, is a contributor at Book Riot, hangs out on Twitter a lot—possibly too much—and watches a shocking amount of television. Her cat is a murderer.