Pop culture typically sees single parents—when it sees them at all—as self-sacrificing or overworked or lonely, and certainly not desirable and worthy of sexual attention. “The moment you call someone a parent, it immediately desexualizes them and that’s not true at all, in books or in life,” says Seema Mahanian, senior editor at Grand Central Publishing. She acquired Tia Williams’s Seven Days in June (June), in which Eva Mercy, a single mother and bestselling erotica writer, gets entangled with an enigmatic novelist.
“Eva is a writer and a mother, and owning her wants and needs allows her to be vulnerable to let in love,” Mahanian says. “That makes her life richer and makes her a better parent. The book is an ode to all the different kinds of love.”
A welcome number of romances in the coming months highlight single parents and other caregivers. PW spoke with the authors and editors of several such books about their atypical protagonists, who find beauty and joy in both parental and romantic love.
All the single ladies
Romance is inherently a hopeful genre; romances about single mothers are even more so, given the stigma and cultural baggage that they carry.
In Well Matched (Berkley, Oct.), Jen DeLuca’s third rom-com set in small-town Willow Creek, Md., single mother April Parker finds herself in a fake relationship with old friend Mitch Malone, a Renaissance fair performer. “April put her life on hold for a really long time, and she needed to be shaken up and told that it’s okay to live her life,” DeLuca says. “The norm for a romance protagonist is a person in their 20s, white, thin, straight; I like that so many books are busting out of that. I loved writing an over-40 protagonist, and I enjoyed having the older person in the relationship being the woman.”
The popular enemies-to-lovers trope figures into both June Faver’s Welcome Back to Rambling, Texas (Sourcebooks Casablanca, July) and Brenda Novak’s When I Found You (Mira, June), each of which features a single mother. The former launches a contemporary series and sees Reggie Lee Stafford, who lives in her hometown with her daughter, face off against her high school nemesis, Frank Bell. In the latter, pediatrician Natasha Gray, divorced, bankrupt, and looking after her son, butts heads with Mack Amos, a man who’s left her heartbroken more than once.
Alison Dasho, senior editor at Montlake, likes books that work within genre tropes but that are unexpected. “It’s important to push and adapt and nudge a trope to include the kind of character whose story doesn’t get told often,” she says. She acquired Brittainy Cherry’s The Mixtape (July), in which struggling bartender and single mom Emery Taylor takes a job as personal chef to troubled rock star Oliver Smith; PW’s starred review described it as a “deeply felt friends-to-lovers contemporary.”
Cherry typically includes single parents in her work, Dasho says. “Brittainy thinks it’s beautiful to fall in love, and that when you’re falling in love with a parent or someone who cares for a child, you get to fall in love with a whole family instead of just an individual,” she explains. “The desire to be your best self for someone in addition to a romantic partner is interesting to explore in romance novels.”
Hop on pop
Chantel Guertin draws on personal experience in Instamom (Kensington, July). Like her protagonist, Guertin fell for a single father. “People end up as single parents for many reasons,” she says. “There’s this idea that ‘life happens’ and you don’t want romance anymore—and of course you do!”
In the book, Kit Kidding, an influencer whose bestselling book is titled Kid-Free Forever, has a one-night stand with Will MacGregor, a chef and widower with an eight-year-old daughter. Though fiercely attached to her child-free-by-choice brand, Kit is also fiercely attracted to Will. “Kit learns [that fatherhood is] what makes Will who he is,” Guertin says. “Rom-coms get a bad rap that they’re not realistic, but this is a story that’s common and familiar. Kit is a workaholic, and in the course of the novel she realizes that even when she’s not there, she’s thinking about this child.” PW acknowledged the story’s layers in its review: “Themes of personal choice and female empowerment underscore this tender rom-com.”
Given the number of single fathers in the U.S.—some 2.5 million, according to the Census Bureau, which is many orders of magnitude more than the number of dukes in Regency England—it shouldn’t be surprising to see them turning up as romance novel leads. In Heard It in a Love Song by Tracey Garvis Graves (St. Martin’s, Nov.), recently divorced Layla Hilding, former lead singer in a popular bar band and now an elementary school music teacher, meets Josh, who is reeling from the dissolution of his 20-year marriage and adapting to his shared custody situation. Delores Fossen’s latest series launch, Spring at Saddle Run (HQN, June), pairs a widower focused on raising his daughter with a recent widow; his daughter serves as a bridge between the two adults.
Another veteran author, Lori Foster, says news articles noting that single parenting is far more prevalent now than it was in the past prompted her latest standalone, The Summer of No Attachments (HQN, June). “I wanted to write [a story] where everything turned out okay for a single parent, because that’s not always the case,” she says. “I like happy endings.”
In Foster’s story, which PW described as a “cute romp,” veterinarian Ivey Anders, fresh off a breakup, is searching for a seasonal fling when she meets Corbin Meyer, who is looking after the 10-year-old son he only recently learned he’d had. “I wanted to show that kids come first,” Foster says. “Corbin meets Ivey, and even though Ivey has sworn off relationships, she’s immediately charmed by this little kid. Corbin couldn’t imagine himself in a relationship, but in comes Ivey, who is such a good influence and who ‘gets it.’ Sometimes opening up works out for the best. There’s plenty of love to go around.”
Love will find a way
Parenting isn’t the only kind of caregiving, and some new romances acknowledge the complexities that other forms of caretaking entail. Carolyn Brown’s Second Chance at Sunflower Ranch (Forever, Aug.) pairs Jesse Ryan, a combat veteran who returns home to look after his aging foster parents, and Addison Hall, his parents’ live-in nurse, his childhood friend, and single mother to a 19-year-old. The twist: Addison’s daughter is also Jesse’s, the happy result of a one-night stand when they were teenagers.
Pat Simmons’s Family Is Forever series of Christian romances center the lives of three sisters who are caring for their great-aunt. In book three, Stand by Me (Sourcebooks Casablanca, Nov.), Kim Knicely, who is in her 30s and ready to move beyond her caregiver role, meets a much older man, Hamilton Cross, who is the primary caregiver to his granddaughter, who has autism.
“My character is in the prime of her life, but the person she falls for cares for his granddaughter,” Simmons says. “If they get together, not only is she going to become an instant grandma, but she’s also going to be the grandma of a child who needs special attention. She has to decide if her love is great enough to jump into this role.”
Simmons, like the other authors and editors interviewed for this piece, believes that circumstances, no matter how complicated, needn’t get in the way of romance. “Just because you’re a single caregiver, that doesn’t mean love can’t find you,” she says. “I want my readers to see themselves and know that there’s hope for them.”
Pooja Makhijani is a writer and editor in New Jersey.
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