The best books about child abandonment

14 authors have picked their favorite books about child abandonment and why they recommend each book.

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The Importance of Being Earnest

By Oscar Wilde,

Book cover of The Importance of Being Earnest

Jack pretends to be his brother, Earnest, blaming the made-up man for all mishandled affairs. But when Jack's friend "becomes" the infamous Earnest and begins to woo Jack's ward Cecily, all sorts of craziness ensues. This classic play is perhaps the best example of wacky characters creating mayhem in a world where even bad things turn out to be only silly mishaps.  


Who am I?

I teach writing and children's literature at the University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point, and for many years worked as a librarian. (Once a librarian, always a librarian!) First and foremost, I'm a reader. The real world can be an unpleasant and depressing place, so I regularly escape inside books. Although serious books are great, it's also nice to escape to a world where you can laugh and not worry about anything too bad happening.


I wrote...

Wilde Wagers

By Elizabeth Caulfield Felt,

Book cover of Wilde Wagers

What is my book about?

Oscar Wilde bets that actress Olivia Snow can fool a group of country bumpkins into believing she is Genevieve Lamb, the wealthy beauty of the recent Season. The weekend will prove a challenge for the old-fashioned actress and Genevieve’s handsome and old-fashioned brother, Philip, because the manor is filled with ridiculous and eccentric characters, as well as one murderous criminal. While Olivia pretends to be Genevieve, Genevieve wagers on her own performance–as Olivia Snow. She and Oscar Wilde go out on the town, a decision that will have both wishing they’d stayed at home. These two charades take unexpected turns during a wild weekend of kidnapping, cucumber sandwiches, bee stings, and love. This Oscar Wilde-esque romantic comedy mystery will keep you guessing–and craving teacake.

Silas Marner

By George Eliot,

Book cover of Silas Marner

I first encountered Silas Marner, as I did so many other great stories, in the form of a Classics Illustrated comic. I liked it well enough, but avoided the novel for decades, assuming it would be maudlin. Not so. It’s very realistic and very moving. Middlemarch is considered Eliot's masterpiece, and I've tried it a couple of times but couldn't really warm to it--even though it, too, features an orphan! Marner, on the other hand, drew me in right away. (Maybe I should try the Classics Illustrated version of Middlemarch?)  


Who am I?

Though I’m not personally an orphan, I’ve always been drawn to books that feature them. Maybe it’s because I felt the lack of a father; mine wasn’t around much during my childhood, since he worked at a job in the city through the week. The absent or distant father is a recurring theme in my novels, including the Shakespeare Stealer series, Moonshine, The Imposter, The Year of the Hangman, and Curiosity. Of course, when you write for young readers, orphans also make ideal protagonists, since they’re forced to use their own resources to confront and resolve the story’s conflict, rather than relying on grownups.


I wrote...

Curiosity

By Gary Blackwood,

Book cover of Curiosity

What is my book about?

Intrigue, danger, chess, and a real-life hoax combine in this historical novel from the author of The Shakespeare Stealer.

Philadelphia, PA, 1835. Rufus, a twelve-year-old chess prodigy, is recruited by a shady showman named Maelzel to secretly operate a mechanical chess player called the Turk. The Turk wows ticket-paying audience members and players, who do not realize that Rufus, the true chess master, is hidden inside the contraption. But Rufus’s job working the automaton must be kept secret, and he fears he may never be able to escape his unscrupulous master. And what has happened to the previous operators of the Turk, who seem to disappear as soon as Maelzel no longer needs them? Creeping suspense, plenty of mystery, and cameos from Edgar Allan Poe and P. T. Barnum mark Gary Blackwood’s triumphant return to middle-grade fiction.

The Light Between Oceans

By M.L. Stedman,

Book cover of The Light Between Oceans

This book was my own personal cheerleader and inspiration when I was writing my own book, because the place in this novel was a legitimate character alongside the humans; the landscapes, the sea, the lighthouse, the storms, the isolation... all of those elements affected me as much as the characters did, so it became a perfect combination of things to make for a compelling narrative of love and loss. This book was on my nightstand the entire time I was writing my novel, and even though I never met her, and probably never will, ML Stedman will always be one of my muses. Her writing is truly remarkable.


Who am I?

I've always been a natural storyteller, and as an only child of Ukrainian immigrants, I carry all the stories with me. I realized as an adult that if I didn't write them down, they would dissipate and vanish. So, I wanted to write stories not only for myself, but in order to connect to others and inspire them to learn about their own family stories. We're all connected on this planet like a giant village, and I've always loved talking to people and learning about who they are. The core of my work centers around humans and loss and hope, and seeing how each of those things are affected by the environment around them.


I wrote...

The Child of Ukraine

By Tetyana Denford,

Book cover of The Child of Ukraine

What is my book about?

Based on true events, this book is an epic story of love, loss, betrayal, and hope... one Ukrainian family's search to find their place in the world after escaping Ukraine during WWII.

The Dwarves

By Markus Heitz,

Book cover of The Dwarves

The Dwarves series (especially the first two books) bring the readers back in time and sets them up, straight from the beginning, on a simpler way of seeing things and also a simpler way of writing, while also being able to convey the true values of the fantasy genre with class.


Who am I?

Being of Eastern European origins, and also a child of the 80s, definitely had a say in what my likings and my character would become growing up. From the cold long winters and the white landscapes, Fantasy genre, and everything Might and Magic have shaped my childhood, my studies, my art (traditional oil painting and clay sculpting) and lingered until now (and definitely beyond).


I wrote...

Winterhorn

By Baiculescu Ovidiu Nicolae,

Book cover of Winterhorn

What is my book about?

Delve into a world of might and magic where ancient creatures roam the earth and shape the destinies of humans.

Get to meet Lorian, a simple boy born with a leg disability, who finds himself right at the core of a timeless conflict between magic wielders and magical creatures. Without much choice, he is forced onto a wicked path of constant danger and separated without a reason from his promised love, Elmira. He befriends an Iprorim, an imp, will get to know some of the secrets of a witch called Naghnatë and will meet a Drakhahoul, Ghaeloden-Three-Horns, a dragon, who will take a peculiar interest into the boy’s fate.

Made in the U.S.A.

By Billie Letts,

Book cover of Made in the U.S.A.

For me, personally, this book taught me how truly lucky I was while living in my truck for 5 years in the early 2000s. 15-year-old Lutie and her 12-year-old brother, Fate, are thrown into a desperate adventure after their stepmom dies. Their odyssey across America in an attempt to find their long-lost father, and the perils of being homeless in Las Vegas and avoiding the life-threatening perils of living in a car and dodging unsavory and predatory people, is a harshly realistic depiction of...well, reality.


Who am I?

What can better give expertise on the books one loves than decades of reading? I’ve always had a passion for sympathetic, strong characters, especially women. At the core of all my novels, readers will find a sympathetic and strong heroine. In Girlfriend Trouble, Lian is the catalyst that changes the lives of everyone around her for the better; or, more precisely, Lian’s compassion, wisdom, and serene nature are what change things. I’m probably too idealistic, but it’s better than being a cynic. There’s an element of this in all the books I’ve recommended, and those I’ve written. I like to think there’s more of it in the real world too.


I wrote...

Girlfriend Trouble

By Robert Shaw,

Book cover of Girlfriend Trouble

What is my book about?

Karate Kid meets Wimpy Kid in this YA coming-of-age story.

14-year-old Mikey dreams of the girl he longs to meet; she's so real he can almost reach out and touch her... if he didn't keep waking up and getting in trouble with the school bully. Then Mikey meets Lian in the real world, and she changes everything for everyone. Girlfriend Trouble is a funny, heart-warming story about tolerance, understanding, and the acceptance of the unpopular kids; it's about having self-confidence, self-respect, and respect for one’s peers, and about dealing with bullies both youthful and grown-up.

Homecoming

By Cynthia Voigt,

Book cover of Homecoming: Volume 1

Homecoming has been around for a long time, but it is a story I’ve never forgotten. Voigt opens her novel with Dicey Tillerman, thirteen, and her three younger siblings abandoned by their mother in the parking lot of a shopping mall. The only way Dicey can keep the family together is to get them to a great-aunt’s home, but that means a long journey with little money. This is a tale of fiction, yet it exemplifies the courage and strength that so many kids muster in the face of impossible odds. I’ve always felt that too many people underestimate the resilience of our youth.


Who am I?

Teaching middle school made me painfully aware of the disparity in our students’ lives. Some kids have every advantage, while others struggle to survive without enough food, clean water, or a safe, dry place to sleep for the night. All these kids, with their diverse backgrounds, sit side-by-side in class and are expected to perform at the same academic and social levels. In my novels, I feature ordinary teens that are strong, smart, and resilient, like so many of the students who taught me as much as I taught them.


I wrote...

Sleeping in My Jeans

By Connie King Leonard,

Book cover of Sleeping in My Jeans

What is my book about?

Sixteen-year-old Mattie Rollins has it all figured out. She’ll ace her advanced high school courses, earn a college scholarship, and create a new life for herself and her family. There’s no time for distractions—no friends, no fun, and especially no boys.

But Mattie’s brilliant plan for a better life begins to crumble after becoming homeless, forcing her, her mom, and her six-year-old sister, Meg to live in the confines of their beat-up station wagon, Ruby. With new problems hitting her at every turn and fewer options every day, Mattie must learn to live–not just survive–in their circumstances. When her mother mysteriously disappears, Mattie races to find her before she slips away forever, along with Mattie’s hopes and dreams of a stable future.

The Same Stuff as Stars

By Katherine Paterson,

Book cover of The Same Stuff as Stars

Life is tough for Angel—her dad is in jail, her mom is irresponsible, and she has to take care of her seven-year-old brother. Paterson doesn’t hold back in this unflinching look at family brokenness, but as sad as the circumstances are, there is hope! Angel meets some new adults and through their small kindnesses, she learns that she is stronger than she ever knew. It’s a great message for any kid who is struggling with too much responsibility. It has a redemption arc that I also loved. 


Who am I?

I am the author of two middle grade books, and I love writing about kids who may not have much materially but abound in heart and courage. I grew up in a small southern town and my childhood was just like that—low on income but full of love, hope, and friendship. I want kids to know that despite their circumstances there is hope for a better life. Like Wavie’s mom tells her in my book, Hope In The Holler, “You’ve got as much right to a good life as anybody. So go find it!”


I wrote...

Hope in the Holler

By Lisa Lewis Tyre,

Book cover of Hope in the Holler

What is my book about?

Before Wavie's mother died, she gave Wavie a list of instructions to help her find her way in life, including: Be brave, Wavie B! You got as much right to a good life as anybody, so find it! But little did Wavie's mom know that events would bring Wavie back to Conley Hollow, the Appalachian hometown her mother left behind. Now Wavie's back in the Holler—in the clutches of her Aunt Samantha Rose. Life with Samantha Rose is no picnic, but there's real pleasure in making friends with the funny, easygoing kids her aunt calls the "neighborhood-no-accounts." With their help, Wavie just might be able to prevent her aunt from becoming her legal guardian and find her courage and place in the world. 

Pieces of My Mother

By Melissa Cistaro,

Book cover of Pieces of My Mother: A Memoir

Both a captivating and heart-breaking memoir, this book is the story of a woman and her motherthe mother who abandoned her and her siblings and father. It moves back and forth in time from when the mother leaves and we hear stories of what happened to each of her children, to the present day as the mother lies dying. This memoir is beautifully told, with details so sharp and clear you can almost watch the action as it unfolds to finally tell you how Cistaro copes with the mother who refused to stay. This story is for all mothers and daughters, ones that stay and ones that go.


Who am I?

I have a great interest in personal stories, well written. My memoir, The Full Catastrophe, was published in 2016. I wanted an answer to my own question “How could a well-educated, intelligent woman marry an abusive man?” Writing allowed me to find my answers. From that time on, I have taught people to write their own memoirs, have lectured on memoir, facilitated group discussions on memoir, and written articles on memoir. I am now in the process of writing another memoir. 


I wrote...

The Full Catastrophe: A Memoir

By Karen Elizabeth Lee,

Book cover of The Full Catastrophe: A Memoir

What is my book about?

In 1998, after a fourteen-year marriage to Duncan—a bully who’d been terrorizing and controlling her for all the years they’d been together—Karen Lee thought divorce was in the cards. But ten months after telling him that she wanted that divorce, Duncan was diagnosed with cancer—and eight months later, he was gone. Karen hoped her problems would disappear with Duncan’s death; instead, she found that, without his ranting, raving, and screaming taking up space in her life, she had her own demons to face. Luckily, Duncan had inadvertently left her the keys to her own salvation—a love of Jungian psychology, and a book that was to be her guide through her journey to healing. The Full Catastrophe is the story of a well-educated, professional woman who finally resurrected her life. 

Refugee Boy

By Benjamin Zephaniah,

Book cover of Refugee Boy

In a world where the number of forcibly displaced people is rising faster and to the highest levels ever, I believe this beautifully written story of fourteen-year-old Alem is incredibly important. Thinking he’s on a short holiday to the UK with his father, Alem, who is an aspiring architect, happily soaks in the sights and sounds, making apt comparisons between London and the urban landscapes and architecture of Ethiopia. However, Alem is about to have his world turned upside down. The next day, his father abandons him in the UK in a desperate attempt to keep him safe from the war between Ethiopia and Eritrea. This means Alem is forced to navigate the asylum process and get used to living in the UK while trying desperately to hang onto the hope that his parents are still alive and that they might one day be reunited as a family.


Who am I?

Born the same year as Winona Ryder, Tupac Shakur, and Elon Musk, I’m a Toronto-based writer of novels, short fiction, graphic stories, nonfiction, and scripts for film and television. My YA books include the graphic novella The Lion of Africa, the supernatural, climate change-fuelled Daughters of Light trilogy, and the hard-hitting Since You’ve Been Gone. My writing gives voice to strong, diverse protagonists in urban settings who are dealing with seemingly insurmountable challenges. I’ve been a special education teacher for more than 20 years and my characters are often inspired by the amazing young people I’ve worked with. The cities in my work are living, breathing entities that shape the plot and the protagonist’s character.


I wrote...

Enough

By Mary Jennifer Payne,

Book cover of Enough

What is my book about?

Life hasn't been easy for fifteen-year-old Lizzie Jackson since her father's sudden death four years ago. Shortly after he died, her mother, Lydia, began dating and drinking herself into oblivion, leaving Lizzie to parent her younger brother, Charlie. Things go from bad to worse when Lydia marries Dean. To protect Charlie from Dean's rage, Lizzie makes herself the target of his abuse. But when Dean sexually assaults Lizzie, things change forever. Can she continue to ensure her brother's safety after she flees their home? 

The Painted Bird

By Jerzy Kosinksi,

Book cover of The Painted Bird

Unlike the other books on this list, The Painted Bird forgoes bloodshed and serial killers and instead shows us a dark side of human nature plagued with apathy and senseless violence. The book follows a young, abandoned boy during WWII as he travels from village to village only to find that humanity is, despite popular belief, not mostly good. It’s beautifully written and has long earned its place as one of literature’s best novels, but it is also possibly the bleakest story ever written. Unfortunately, humans can be downright awful to each other, and The Painted Bird shows you how.


Who am I?

I’ve always been a fan of horror because a good scare makes the adrenaline flow. Personally, I don’t think ghosts and demons are real, and they don’t scare me. But humans…humans can be downright evil. This is why I gravitate toward serial killer and slasher fiction when I’m looking for a scare. Sometimes I just want to test my endurance for the dark side of human nature. Unfortunately, it is all too easy to write a really depraved book without taking the time to make the reader care about the characters, which is why these novels are my favorite works of darkness. These are great, disturbing books with genuine pathos.


I wrote...

The Summer I Died: The Roger Huntington Saga, Book 1

By Ryan C. Thomas,

Book cover of The Summer I Died: The Roger Huntington Saga, Book 1

What is my book about?

Dubbed one of “The Most Intense Horror Novels” ever written by many thriller review sites, The Summer I Died is the first book in the Roger Huntington saga and a cult classic among fans of dark thriller fiction. Best friends, Roger and Tooth, are shooting beer cans at Bobcat Mountain, catching up on lost time, thinking about their futures, when they are suddenly thrust into the middle of a nightmare. Forced to fight for their lives against a sadistic serial killer, they must decide: are heroes born, or are they made? Blumhouse.com says “You’re in for a surprise!” and Bloodydisgusting.com says, “If you want to freak yourself out on your next camping trip, you can’t really do any better than The Summer I Died!”

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