Whose Afraid of the Big, Bad Mama: Meddling and Mercenary Moms (in YA).

From Coraline

Actually, I am kind of afraid of the Other Mother.

More than a year ago, I tweeted about this article in the NY Times:  The Parent Problem in Young Adult Lit.  Some of the more choice quotes include:

“Like the clownish adults on the Disney Channel or “Modern Family,” the not-in-charge, curiously diminished parent is just sort of there, part of the scenery.”

“The most memorable ‘bad guy’ had become, in many cases, the mother, matching in pathos what the wicked stepmother once conjured in malevolence.”

“However toned down, the hapless fictional parents of today aren’t necessarily more believable than the slightly scary figures of the classic problem novel. What they are is less consequential.”

Reading the article, where Just writes about the general ineptitude of parental figures in YA, made me think about the characters in my series and where they might fit in the continuum that Just constructs.

My conclusion:  They really don’t.  The parents in my novels, and  the story is multi-generational, are not clownish, inept, or inconsequential.  Ok, on the surface, the parents are absent for a good portion of the first novel and, now that the second one is finished, the second as well….on the other hand Anna and Robert (parents) are absolutely central to Nate and Larissa’s (fraternal twins) experiences.   One place that Just did hit the nail on the head, at least to me, was with her description of mothers.  The mamas in my novel are, at best, perhaps morally ambiguous, and at worst…well, you will just have to read to find out.  Anyway, this post is not really about my books.  I am more interested why mamas have the potential to be so terrifying.

Personally, daily, I am confronted with the ways that my mother shaped me–ways that I am much more able to recognize now that I am no longer a youth.   And it’s in the weirdest ways.  For instance, I have never, in my adult life, worn bangs mostly because I once heard my mother off-handedly say that she didn’t like the style because it made her feel like the woman wearing it was trying to hide something.  Random.  I know.   If a simple off-handed comment from my mama can stick with me and shape my preferences even until this day, it’s no wonder that YA authors, and centuries of storytellers before them, see a horrible potential in that power wielded to nefarious ends.

Writing these novels has made me have to think about what it means to be a mother (which is something that I have not had to give much thought to before); what a mother would do to protect, care, and provide for her children; and how that instinct can perhaps become twisted and corrupt. Toni Morrison’s Beloved comes to mind as an example of the extreme ways that those impulses might be acted out.  (Even as I write this, HP and the Sorceror’s Stone is on the television–which also covers this theme; oh, and Dumbledore robs Slytherin at the end…boo).  What, for instance, makes the difference between the mother who wants her daughter to make the cheerleader and so she hires a coach to prepare her for tryouts and the mom that hires someone to hurt her daughter’s competition.  I feel like the impulse comes from the same source.  Anyway, in all of my thinking, I have come to the conclusion that  the line between motherly sacrifice and maniacal motherly machinations might be thinner than we like to acknowledge…. Or maybe that conclusion is a hint to understanding the mamas in my books.  🙂

I am going to post this now, even though it’s not done.   Maybe I will come back to this post, or maybe there will be a round 2.  We’ll see….

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