MOTHERS IN YA FICTION by Wendy Delsol
Mother earth. Mother lode. Motherland. At mother’s knee.
Mother: it’s the mother of all metaphors. Yet mothers are absent in a lot of YA literature. As are fathers often, too.
I get it. The teen psych grapples with coming of age: becoming independent, testing boundaries, defying authority, exploring sexuality, setting their own future course.
And those struggles are a lot more dramatic when tackled alone and/or when facing some major disruptive circumstance. Death of a parent. Runaway. Neglect due to poverty (or excess wealth). Boarding school for paranormal ability. To-the-death futuristic cage fight.
All good. Some great, even. Nonetheless, as a writer, I deliberately chose to give my protagonist, Katla, two supportive—albeit recently divorced—parents. I feel this cocooned the reader in a could-be-me surrounding. When her magical ability kicked in—bringing with it a complication, or two—she was still at home and dealing with other, more relatable, high-school issues: new kid, first love, Homecoming dress, etc. Moreover, I assigned her a strong female mentor within her council of Storks, a coven of white witches who match hovering souls with the right birth mother. This wise woman, Hulda, guides and prompts Katla but doesn’t directly command her young charge.
As a mother of two teen boys and a writer, it’s not always easy to practice this kind of subtle guidance. (Is that the tak-tak-tak of a helicopter I hear?) And, for me, there is a parental instinct that kicks in even as a woman writing YA fiction. Authors want to protect their characters. This urge is heightened if and when the character is a child or teen. We resist this protective instinct and heap all manner of obstacles in our protagonists paths, but we don’t necessarily enjoy it.
(And, yes, there is A LOT of me in Katla’s mother, Lilja. All those Kashi jokes—it making a good mulch, for instance—come to me at breakfast.)
Parental figures have a place in YA fiction. If they’re not a familial entity, mother or father, they can be a guide or mentor. While a main character may benefit from such counsel, there will—should be anyway—a point at which they act independently, incorporating values and lessons learned.
Happy belated Mother’s Day to those who qualify. And to my own dear, sweet mom, my greatest champion.
My mother is a poem
I’ll never be able to write,
Though everything I write
Is a poem to my mother