In honor of Mother’s Day, instead of extolling the virtues of the great fictional moms out there (of which there are many) I’d like to take time to discuss the worst parents I’ve encountered in young adult books thus far. Let’s face it, they can’t all be Rachel Morgan, mother of Cammie Morgan, ex-spy, and kick-ass Headmistress of the Gallagher Academy.
I write YA–don’t worry, I won’t talk about my novel–and I know one of the hardest parts, especially in urban fantasy or supernatural stories, is getting the parents out of the way. You can’t have a story if the protagonist is grounded for hot-wiring a car or missing curfew. It doesn’t work if mom notices the kid’s grades are slipping because she’s spending all of her time chasing werewolves through the woods. Some books do this well. (Some even let the parents in on the Big!Secret, like Laurel’s parents from Wings.) So let’s talk about the bad parents (often moms) I’ve encountered recently.
Disclaimer: I am not a parent. I have two lovely cats, Billy and Locke, and a step cat, Louis–don’t worry, I won’t talk too much about my cats–but no kids. I’m sure I’d make a terrible parent. This is my opinion based on what works in the book and what doesn’t. Obviously parenting is hard and writing good parents can be hard, especially if your character is running around all night fighting demons or whatever. Also I have a mom! I love you, Mom! Okay, then, let’s start this party. Also, there are a few spoilers.
Jocelyn Fray, mother of Clary Fray – City of Bones by Cassandra Clare – Granted, I’ve only read the first book in this series and maybe she gets awesome, but in this installment, she’s basically a woman in the refrigerator. (TV tropes alert!) She gets kidnapped and then spends what time they have her in a coma, so it’s not her fault that she does nothing. She loses points with me for never warning Clary of the danger she was in and having Magnus mind-meld her as a young child. And yes, I know it was all for her own protection, but I feel like knowledge is better armor than ignorance. But then I without it we’d never meet Magnus and he and Alec are adorable. Also the plot sort of hinges on it.
Jacinda’s mom – Firelight by Sophie Jordan – In an effort to protect both of her daughters, Jacinda’s mother moves them away from their dragon pride to a small town in the desert. That’s fine and logical, except her goal isn’t just to keep them safe from the cult-like pride. It’s to kill Jacinda’s inner draki (dragon spirit, I guess?) Draki need forests and lush greens, and the desert will kill it, just as her mother killed her own long ago (and Jacinda’s poor twin never had one). I get that she’d be safer without it, but it’s a huge part of her and her mother is actively trying to destroy it. She’s cruel and refuses to listen to reason, determined that because she didn’t want her own draki part, Jacinda is better off with out it. That’s a pretty final decision. It’d be like if your mom decided you should have one arm, because she has one arm, and your twin only has one, and made you get it amputated. It’s that disgusting, and yet her mother sees no reason Jacinda shouldn’t be happy about it. It’s incredibly frustrating and stupid and just plain mean.
The Fitzroys, Rosalinda Fitzroy’s parents, A Long, Long Sleep by Anna Sheehan – Rose wakes up in a stasis tube after being left there, accidentally, for sixty-two years, because her parents were killed in an accident and had been the only ones who knew her location. Everyone assumes she was put into stasis to protect her from the plague going around back then, and after her parents died, was stuck. But it’s later revealed that Rose’s parents treated her like a doll, a toy that was fun sometimes, and put her into stasis whenever having a child was inconvenient. They want to spend a year in Paris? Put the kid in stasis and she’ll be the same when they return. It takes her almost 30 years to hit age 15, because she’s frozen for months or years at a time by her selfish parents who don’t want to bothering parenting. I can’t say this of many YA characters, but she’s lucky her parents are dead.
The Absentee Too-Busy-Grieving and Possibly Depressed to Parent Mom – As seen in The Hunger Games (Katniss and Prim’s mom), The Forest of Hands and Teeth (Mary’s mom, although Mary is so annoying and selfish I’d be busy grieving too), and countless other novels. On one hand, I sympathize with these mothers because they’re obviously mentally ill and too depressed to function. But on the other hand, wake up and parent, damn it! (I know it’s not that easy, and often they exist in worlds without medication and treatment options.) If nothing else, it’s better than the alcoholic parent, if only by a little.
Which moms do you love in fiction? Which moms drive you nuts? Which deserve to be on this list? Let me know what you think!