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The Best and Worst Mothers in YA Literature

May 9, 2012

With Mother’s Day coming up, I thought I’d write a post devoted to mothers in YA literature. Most of the time, mothers in books are either dead or otherwise absent (it’s hard for kids to have adventures or get into serious trouble if they have competent parents there to help out),  so let’s take a minute to look at some notable fictional mothers.

The Best

1. Molly Weasley: Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling – Mother of seven pretty fantastic children, surrogate mother to Harry, and member of the Order of the  Phoenix, Mrs. Weasley is tough, loving, and fiercely protective. It’s basically impossible not to love her.

2. Natalie Prior: Divergent by Veronica Roth – Without spoiling too much, I’ll just say that while Beatrice’s mother starts out as an unassuming model of Abnegation selflessness, it later becomes clear how strong she really is.

3. Emily and Navin’s mother: Amulet series by Kazu Kibuishi – After being taken captive in a magical alternate world and rescued by her children, she does an admirable job of walking the line between protecting her children and allowing them to be part of the fight against the evil elf king.

4. Lily Potter: Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling – I know I already included a Harry Potter character, but there are so many interesting mother characters and Lily might fit into the “dead mother” category, but her final act of sacrifice reverberates throughout the entire series, giving Harry his strongest defense against Voldemort.

5. Eve Casson: Casson Family series by Hilary McKay – On paper, Mrs. Casson sounds like a terrible mother – spending most of her time painting in the shed, and forgetting to do things like buy food for the family – and I’m not sure I can adequately explain what it is that makes her so loveable. I think perhaps this can only be understood by those who have read the books.

The Worst

1. Rosalind’s Mother: Dragon’s Keep by Janet Lee Carey – The Queen of Wilde Island is obsessed with finding a way to rid her daughter of the dragon claw she has in place of one of her fingers. Everything she does is ostensibly for her daughter’s benefit, but she fails to take Rosalind’s thoughts on the matter into account and is incapable of accepting the flaw as a part of who her daughter is. 

2. Dame Olga: Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine – Obviously, Ella’s stepmother treats her like a sub-human lifeform, but let’s also look at how she treats her own daughters. Sure she spoils them rotten and does her very best to improve their futures in the only way she knows how, but she also brought them up to care about little else besides wealth and appearance and as a result they are horrible, self-centered brats.

3. Mrs. Coulter: His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman – Not only did Lyra’s mother leave her to be raised by the scholars and staff of Jordan College, but when they were eventually reunited, she sought to use her for her own gain as a part of her twisted experiments. Plus, she’s just generally a cold, despicable person.

4. Morgause: The Squire’s Tales by Gerald Morris – The Squire’s Tales are nearest and dearest to my heart, as far as Arthurian legend goes, but I don’t think I’ve ever read a Camelot story in which Morgause wasn’t completely horrible. Seducing her half-brother, trying to destroy Camelot, attempting to kill her own sons…she’s pretty much all around evil. How Gawain, Gaheris, and Gareth turned out so well is a mystery.

5. The Pride: Runaways by Brian K. Vaughn et al – While perhaps not quite as bad as Morgause, the mothers of teenage superheroes the Runaways are all part of a group of super-villains called The Pride, whose activities include criminal organization and human sacrifice.

Feel free to comment with your own contributions!

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