Novels about children abandoned by their parents
April 29, 2016 10:01 AM   Subscribe

What novels do you recommend about children abandoned by one or both parents? By abandonment, I mean everything from leaving a baby on the stoop or going out for cigarettes and never returning to the parent who becomes emotionally distant and/or physically distant following a separation or divorce. I'm interested in books in which the abandonment or the child's attempts to deal with it, perhaps when grown up, is a major theme.
posted by Alluring Mouthbreather to Media & Arts (38 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Homecoming and sequels.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 10:04 AM on April 29, 2016 [15 favorites]

The Goldfinch
posted by sparklemotion at 10:05 AM on April 29, 2016 [4 favorites]

The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks.
posted by contraption at 10:08 AM on April 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell if YA is okay. The mother of the protagonist and her twin walked out on the family, leaving them to be raised by their father.
posted by carrioncomfort at 10:12 AM on April 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

If you're interested in fantasy novels, this is a major theme in The Goblin Emperor -- the main character is just now reaching adulthood, and dealing the the emotional and practical fallout of having lost both of his parents under complicated, traumatic circumstances.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 10:14 AM on April 29, 2016 [2 favorites]

If you don't mind fantasy, His Dark Materials has this.
posted by LoonyLovegood at 10:19 AM on April 29, 2016

Always loved Laurence Yep's "Child of the Owl."
posted by Melismata at 10:19 AM on April 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

The Great Gilly Hopkins

Pippi Longstocking and its sequels for a more lighthearted take. (Note; I haven't read these in a long time, but I'm pretty sure there's fitting-for-the-time-period racism in some or all of them.)
posted by ActionPopulated at 10:20 AM on April 29, 2016 [3 favorites]

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell if YA is okay. The mother of the protagonist and her twin walked out on the family, leaving them to be raised by their father.

YA is totally okay. Fangirl is what got me thinking about this as I thought Rowell did a great job with that aspect of the novel.
posted by Alluring Mouthbreather at 10:22 AM on April 29, 2016

Jellaby is a series of graphic novels about a girl whose father seems to be in jail. She has regular nightmares about him and her feelings about him being gone come up frequently in the series ("Mommy?" "Yes dear?" "... where's daddy?"). Jellaby is a big purple and pink monster/dragon.
posted by eisforcool at 10:32 AM on April 29, 2016

Kate Atkinson, Behind the Scenes at the Museum (in part).
posted by Sonny Jim at 10:47 AM on April 29, 2016

The Great Gilly Hopkins is tops on this (note that the heroine, Gilly, is casually racist). A Wrinkle in Time also features apparent paternal abandonment.
posted by praemunire at 10:52 AM on April 29, 2016

Knock Knock is a picture book, but quite powerful.
posted by missrachael at 10:59 AM on April 29, 2016

The Lost Mother

Anywhere But Here and its sequel The Lost Father

Blessings, though the baby more brings out the issues of others since, well, baby.

Any Place I Hang My Hat
posted by zizzle at 11:03 AM on April 29, 2016

Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem is about a group of unwanted kids who grew up at a group home before eventually being taken on as deputies by a minor mobster who they see as a surrogate father.
posted by 256 at 11:04 AM on April 29, 2016

The Distance Between Us by Reyna Grande is great.
posted by desertface at 11:14 AM on April 29, 2016

White Oleander.
posted by mollywas at 11:35 AM on April 29, 2016 [2 favorites]

I think The Chocolate Money by Ashley Prentice Norton would fit the bill here - mom is present but treats her child like an accessory, not a human being. Dad is completely absent and mom won't even tell the daughter who he is.
posted by meggan at 11:44 AM on April 29, 2016

An Ocean in Iowa by Peter Hedges. It takes place during the year that Scotty Ocean's mother abandons the family.
posted by FencingGal at 11:49 AM on April 29, 2016

Swamplandia! by Karen Russell is fantastic. It gets a bit dark, but I loved being immersed in this part of Florida.
posted by Gor-ella at 11:51 AM on April 29, 2016

The Good Children by Kate Wilhelm.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 11:57 AM on April 29, 2016

The strip Gasoline Alley became hugely popular after Skeezix was left on Walt's doorstep.
posted by brujita at 12:22 PM on April 29, 2016

I think a number of Joshily Jackson’s books deal with parental absence/ abandonement: The Opposite of Everyone, Between, Georgia, A Grown Up Kind of Pretty.

Lily White by Susan Isaacs has emotionally absent parents.

Crazy in Alabama by Mark Childress.
posted by Kriesa at 1:30 PM on April 29, 2016

This is a major plot point in Fashionably Late by Olivia Goldsmith - although there's a twist to it.
posted by SisterHavana at 2:23 PM on April 29, 2016

The Memory Keeper's Daughter by (I think) Kim Edwards was very good. The main character is a nurse who delivers the baby of her doctor/boss. When it has Down syndrome, he tells her to get rid of it. She does so by keeping the baby herself.
posted by JoannaC at 2:26 PM on April 29, 2016

I just started a relatively new book called All Things Cease to Appear, which so far I am LOVING and in the opening chapters, there are a couple of parental abandonments by death, if that's okay. I don't want to say too much because it is a mystery novel, ghost story, love story, and family drama all in one. But holy cow I didn't want to go to work today because I wanted to read more.
posted by janey47 at 3:09 PM on April 29, 2016

Geek Love by Katherine Dunn.
posted by ejs at 3:16 PM on April 29, 2016

Bleak House, my favorite Dickens novel, is really interesting on this.
posted by Polycarp at 4:04 PM on April 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

Cynthia Voigt's Tillerman Cycle
posted by bunderful at 4:10 PM on April 29, 2016 [2 favorites]

Good Night, Mr. Tom, and the recent The War That Saved My Life.
posted by Riverine at 4:52 PM on April 29, 2016

Baby by Patricia MacLachlan is from the point of view of the family who found and kept the baby until her mother hopefully/possibly returns. Journey (same author) has an eleven year old tell the story of being left. Belle Prater's Boy by Ruth White has the cousin of the abandoned child trying to figure out what happened to the mother (her aunt) and the child himself dealing in his own way.

Lock and Key by Sarah Dessen is a teen dealing with being abandoned. Starglass by (mefi's own) Phoebe North has an emotionally abandoned and abused teen coming to terms with her dad.

I second the recommendations for Cynthia Voigt's Tillerman series -- Homecoming is a fairly straightforward journey as the children try to find a home, but all the ones afterwards are them trying to make some sense of their lives and especially their abandonment by (at different points) both parents.
posted by Margalo Epps at 9:13 PM on April 29, 2016

Mary Wesley's A Sensible Life.
posted by girlgenius at 9:59 PM on April 29, 2016

The Woods by Harlan Coben
posted by SisterHavana at 7:34 AM on April 30, 2016

A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews

Jane Eyre

Children kind of on their own (parents absent for a variery of reasons: orphaned, abandoned, sent to the country due to the war, death of mother and the father struggling financially plus being a typically-for-the-time-period uninvolved father, runaways, kids transported to alternate worlds/dimensions, kids at boarding school) seems to be a recurring theme in YA literature, especially late Victorian british works: E. Nesbit, much of Roald Dahl's work, The Secret Garden, Alice In Wonderland, the Narnia series, etc. For American versions and more contemporary: Maniac Magee, the Swallows and Amazons series, the Hunger Games trilogy, etc. I think this absent-parent plot device is common in books addressing the age range where kids are becoming independent/separating from their parents, so having parents absent in the story allows the author to give the young protagonists more agency, and to have adventures that showcase their decisions, the consequences thereof, and their growth and independence. That is, the stories are in many ways roadmaps to adulthood, which is a state where parents are absent, at least relative to their level of presence in earlier childhood. In that sense, books like the early Nancy Drew series, though not abandoned in the sense you describe seem to be a milder version of the same idea.

Then there's Lord of the Flies.
posted by eviemath at 9:14 AM on April 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

She's Come Undone by Wally Lamb. Not comfortable to read, but very well-written.
posted by Specklet at 3:41 PM on April 30, 2016

I really enjoyed Greengage Summer by Rumer Godden. I don't know if it counts: the father was absent or dead and the mother's illness led to the separation from the children
posted by serenity_now at 2:53 PM on May 1, 2016

Tietam Brown
White bird in a blizzard
Human Croquet
Emotionally Weird
Empire of the Sun
Love in a cold climate
No name

these all deal with children grappling with identity after death or departure of parent. Some deal with forging identity and inner life in wake of notorious parent. Also as mentioned up thread Dickens specialised in virtuous child of wicked parent eg Our Mutual Friend.
posted by BAKERSFIELD! at 3:46 AM on May 2, 2016

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