Mother-teen relationships are complicated enough in young adult lit, but perhaps even more frequently tenuous—if it exists at all—is the father-teen bond. Even more than their female parental counterparts, fathers are often depicted as the ones applying extreme pressure on their kids to succeed, or eventually leaving their wives for other women, or administering abuse…and those are the ones who at least initially stuck around. But as in real life (as I’m lucky enough to be able to personally attest), there are also some wonderful fathers and father figures in YA. In honor of Father’s Day, here are my five (well, six) favorites:
Sam Quintana (Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, by Benjamin Alire Sáenz)
There aren’t really any characters in this American Book Award winner that aren’t rather wonderful, but I don’t think any YA dad has ever won me over quite as quickly as Sam Quintana, Dante’s father. Warm, affectionate, humorous, and literary, he’s the friend’s dad you kinda hope hangs around when you go over for dinner, because you know the evening will be more fun with him than without him.
Adam and Seth (My Life After Now, by Jessica Verdi)
This book holds a special place in my heart for two firsts: It was the first book YA I’ve ever read that explored a teen having HIV (and still remains the only one), and the first with a two-dad household (though I went on to read another in Stephanie Perkins’ Lola and the Boy Next Door). It adds a whole extra layer to the story of a teenage girl’s contraction of HIV to pair her with gay male parents for whom the AIDS crisis of the 1980s is never a distant memory, and that they’re kind and supportive, yet adamant about making her understand where their feelings come from, makes them two of my favorite YA dads.
Sam (Then You Were Gone, by Lauren Strasnick)
Strictly speaking, Sam isn’t anyone’s dad, he’s the live-in boyfriend of main character Adrienne’s mother. That said, as a father figure, he’s one of the most present and caring I’ve seen in YA—a standout feature in its own right that’s magnified times infinity when you take into account how rarely nontraditional family structures receive a positive portrayal.
Greg Tzorvas (When the Stars Still Shine, by Trish Doller)
For most of her life, Callie’s been parented by a single mother; given that said mother kidnapped her, she didn’t exactly have a choice. But now that they’ve been found, Callie’s been transported into a brand-new life with a father she doesn’t know. And although they clash over and over again as Callie struggles to adjust, his constant efforts to welcome her into the new life he created for himself after having her ripped away cemented him as one of my favorites.
Ken Dietz (Please Ignore Vera Dietz, by A.S. King)
In one of the loveliest, most touching father-daughter relationships in YA, Vera and Ken Dietz may not always see eye to eye—particularly when their relationship is ruled by the fear that she will follow in his footsteps—but there’s no concern of the common “Missing Parent Syndrome” in YA here. When a teenage girl says about her father that she feels like “his equal, and his friend,” you know there’s something special there.
Who’s your favorite dad from YA lit?