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Worst Book Parents

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Since we have a Worst Parents thread in the movie and TV boards, how about starting one for books? Because there are some truly horrible ones in books...

I'll kick things off: Valerie's dad in Hate List by Jennifer Brown. I know how hard it is to support a child that was suspected of being involved in her school shooting, but he doesn't even TRY. Instead, he abandons his whole family to start a new "perfect" family with his secretary. He even tells Valerie TO HER FACE that he'll never forgive her (even though she was innocent) and that he wants her out of his life. What. An. Asshole.

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It would make for a shorter list to name the fathers who aren't absolutely terrible in the Song of Ice and Fire series, and even among those you can still make a fairly solid argument that most of them failed their children by not preparing them to live in the brutal world in which the story is set.  This is, after all, a saga in which not one but multiple fathers have actively tried to kill their sons for not being "worthy" enough heirs.

Edited by nodorothyparker
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I remember being pretty disgusted with the mother in Man without a Face. In the movie one of the changes made was that she smacked the daughter after she found out that she revealed how the dad died but that didn't exist in the book. Just this feeling that she overwhelmingly played favourites.

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This has to go with the Flowers in the Attic series -- Malcolm and Olivia Foxworth, to start.  Malcolm was just a fucked up mess who lusted after his mother and then had a warped relationship with his own daughter.  He flipped out when she ran off to marry her half-uncle and then demanded that she disown her own children in order to inherit. 

 

Corinne, the daughter, hid her children away in the attic and her mother Olivia co-signed this.  She kept them locked up for more than three years in order to inherit a massive estate.

 

While Cathy and Chris, two of the four children, weren't horrible parents per se, they did live together as husband and wife, which had to create a LOT of psychological issues for their children.  And Cathy was far too permissive and dismissive when it came to Bart.

 

I guess we can go ahead and throw V. C. Andrews' Adare family in there too (from My Sweet Audrina.)  I won't give any spoilers if you haven't read the book but Jonathan Adare is a real piece of work.

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I flinched at the way Scarlett O'Hara would treat Wade. Ella too but she was just kind of put on ignore. (Which is in itself damaging but in a different way.) There were times when I felt like she actively loathed her only son and I always appreciated that Rhett would go out of his way to be nice to him. 

 

Cathy from East of Eden has to be one of the worst mothers. One of my ciritcisms of that book is how one dimensional Cathy is. She's just all evil all day long. I wish she'd been a bit more complex.

 

Jillian Tatterton. A horrible mother and grandmother.

 

Cecile Ste. Marie from The Feast of All Saints. A woman who was so jealous of her daughter that she let her down again and again and finally in the worst possible way. Oh, and she was the type of parent that was all about favoring one child over the other.

 

Fiona Clearly was a pretty crappy mother to Meggie. I can't totally condemn her though since her circumstances were so rough. Another woman who seemed to be jealous of her daughter though while giving her sons a big old pass for the most part. Meanwhile she loved Frank and possibly Stu more than the others and I think they all felt it. Meggie meanwhile was no great mom to Justine. 

 

Livilla from I, Claudius is even worse in the books. 

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I love The Feast of All Saints and have for years, but yeah, Cecile Ste. Marie is pretty terrible, expecting her daughter to throw away the chance for a respectable marriage/place in their society to prostitute herself to support the favored child and by extension the whole family. Sure, we can get into the specifics of how precarious their place in the world was as free people of color and how very limited that made their options, but she still was just awful treating her daughter as a commodity.

 

I'd put Anna Karenina up there with Scarlett O'Hara in that neither set out to be deliberately cruel to her children but treated them mostly as afterthoughts and only extremely rarely considered how her actions affected those children and their place in their respective societies.  Anna would rather end her own life, effectively abandoning her children, than try to find any sort of resolution to the extramarital mess of her own making or deal with the consequences of her behavior. 

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Abigail Salmon from The Lovely Bones. Absolutely loathed her for abandoning her family after the tragedy. I could never ever get behind her decision.

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Abigail Salmon from The Lovely Bones. Absolutely loathed her for abandoning her family after the tragedy. I could never ever get behind her decision.

Oh, I HATED that bitch! Not to mention she cheated on her husband with the lead officer investigating her daughter's murder, which indirectly let to the murderer escaping.

I hated how easily the family (except the youngest son) forgave her after just showing up after all those years. The living daughter even names her baby after her?! WTF? She didn't deserve that!

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Buckley? He absolutely broke my heart; only a lil guy when Susie disappeared, and needing his mom the most, and she just shut down on him (and everyone). Massive hate.

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Yeah, poor Buckley. My favorite part of the book is when he tells Abigail to go fuck herself and totally ignores her crocodile tears. Now THAT she deserved!

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Mr. Elliott in Persuasion.

 

Austen's novels have terrible parents. There's one in every book. In Northanger Abbey, General Tilney is a dick. In Mansfield Park, the Bertrams won't win awards.

 

Jane Eyre's Aunt Reed is not great either.

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Devi in Tiger Hills by Sarita Mandanna. Quick summary for those that never read it: takes place in late 1800s India, where Devi falls in love with tiger hunter Machu. Unfortunately Devi gets raped and her family forces her to marry the guy that did it in order to preserve their honor. She has a child from that rape, Nanju, but later adopts Machu's son, Appu, after Machu dies in war. Predictably, Devi dotes on Appu while treating Nanju with indifference.

Look, I know how difficult it is to have a child from rape, but it's still no excuse. And to play favorites with children just because of their fathers is just awful. Devi doesn't just emotionally neglect Nanju; she spoils Appu to the point where he grows up to be an entitled, arrogant douchebag. So she's a crappy mother to both of them.

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Eleanor Iselin in The Manchurian Candidate.

This woman is way worse than both movie versions. The way she treated her sons--they might as well have not been human. Raymond was basically just a multi purpose tool for her to use. She isn't just a terrible parent she's a pretty pathetic excuse for a human being. Definitely fascinating though.

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April Wheeler in Revolutionary Road. She seriously considered aborting her first child, and ultimately

died trying to abort her third.

She barely pays attention to her kids and sends them off to the neighbor's house as much as possible. She pushes her husband into a crazy scheme of moving to Paris, not considering how it will affect the children.

 

There was also Alice Prentice in a lesser-known Richard Yates novel, A Special Providence, putting her son through needless hardship in pursuit of an illusory artistic career.

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Camille's mother and stepdad in Sharp Objects. None of the characters in that book were all that great, of course, but her parents were especially memorable in a terrible way. 

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This might be stating the obvious but the parents in Angela's Ashes should definitely get a mention.

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Most of Richard Yates' mothers were benignly neglectful at best, although the fathers weren't much better.  They weren't really evil just distant and disinterested, with what little interest they did have in their children mostly seeming to begin and end with wanting artistic and personal validation from them that they didn't feel they were getting from the world.  Young Hearts Crying is a great example of this.

 

It's such a pervasive theme in all of Yates' work that you can't help but wonder about his relationships with his own children, especially after learning that the character of Elaine Benes on Seinfeld was based partially on one of his daughters, who did have a real life relationship and later friendship with Larry David.  That character's very crusty and difficult author father, who appeared in an early season episode "The Jacket," was supposed to be a stand in for Yates.

Edited by nodorothyparker

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Sara Fitzgerald in My Sister's Keeper, who turned her youngest daughter into an organ donor for her oldest one. There's already a lot of hate for the movie version in the movie thread, but the book version deserves equal (maybe even more) hate.

Edited by Spartan Girl
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This is a kids' book, but Mary Anne's dad in the Baby-sitters' Club (especially the early ones, which I was reading back in the 80s).  Seriously, dude, I know you want to protect your kid, but she's in middle school. 

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The Dursley's : Obviously they mistreat Harry, I won't go into that since that is clear from the books (and movies).  but in a way they were bad parents to Dudley too. They were so obsessed with him being their  perfect "normal" son, that they don't even notice that he became a school bully, they don't even try to change that.

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A Series of Unfortunate Events: not the actual Baudelaire parents, but almost all of their so-called guardians. With the exception of Uncle Monty and Hector the handyman, every single one of the Baudelare's "caregivers" were either evil or incompetent morons that let them down-- or both.

Mr. Poe also deserves to be on this thread, since he was in charge of the children's welfare and yet he kept sticking them in terrible homes! Even worse was the fact that he NEVER believed them about Count Olaf. Maybe it was natural to be skeptical in the first two times, but seeing as how Count Olaf tracked them down about like eight more times after that, shouldn't he have given them the benefit of the doubt at least once?!!

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I think the Spring parents were ultimately pretty crappy as well in The Face on the Milk Carton series. Insisting that Janie (now a teenager) move back in and essentially forget the only life she's known was bad enough but their failure to even try to keep the expectations realistic was the cherry on top. Expecting her to call strangers Mom and Dad? Not even trying to manage the emotions of the other four kids? Acting like she's intentionally trying to hurt everyone by being homesick? Allowing the siblings to treat her like crap and blaming her for getting kidnapped at the age of 3? Truly great parenting. The second book in the series touches on this but the remaining ones really drive home how stuck the Spring parents are. They really seem to think that Janie would somehow become that 3-year-old again and it would be as if the kidnapping never happened. If anyone ever needed family therapy stat, it was this bunch.

Edited by anna0852
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This is a kids' book, but Mary Anne's dad in the Baby-sitters' Club (especially the early ones, which I was reading back in the 80s).  Seriously, dude, I know you want to protect your kid, but she's in middle school.

I can't remember Mary Anne's dad's personality. What was his deal? I vaguely recall Claudia always being compared unfavorably to her older sister by her parents. Kristy's dad sucked.

Lila Fowler's parents seemed pretty checked out. The Wakefields weren't bad parents exactly but they had no idea what was going on with their kids a lot of the time.

Snape's dad seemed pretty terrible.

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I can't remember Mary Anne's dad's personality. What was his deal? I vaguely recall Claudia always being compared unfavorably to her older sister by her parents. Kristy's dad sucked.

Lila Fowler's parents seemed pretty checked out. The Wakefields weren't bad parents exactly but they had no idea what was going on with their kids a lot of the time.

Snape's dad seemed pretty terrible.

 

Mary Anne's dad was super-strict with her and made her wear her hair in braids and basically look like a little girl.  And yeah, Claudia's parents were Tiger Parents in the sense that she didn't "fit" the stereotype of the "perfect" Asian daughter.

Edited by PRgal

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Both Mariam and Laila's mothers in A Thousand Splendid Suns left A LOT to be desired. Mariam's mother was just so mean and bitter, taking her bad life on her daughter, then kills herself when she thinks Mariam chose her father over her. Granted, Mariam's father was no prize either, but I couldn't blame Mariam for liking her father more, since he at least acted kindly towards her, whereas her mother verbally abused her every chance she got.

Then there's Laila's mother who is so busy grieving over her dead sons that she barely even notices she has a living daughter that needs her. I guess Khaled Hosseini gave them horrible mothers on purpose in order to emphasize the surrogate mother/daughter relationship they'd later find in each other.

Edited by Spartan Girl
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Here's another classic bad parent; Miss Havisham from Great Expectations. The first time I realized that a person adopting didn't necessarily mean they were kind or had good intentions.

Edited by raezen
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I think the Spring parents were ultimately pretty crappy as well in The Face on the Milk Carton series. Insisting that Janie (now a teenager) move back in and essentially forget the only life she's known was bad enough but their failure to even try to keep the expectations realistic was the cherry on top. Expecting her to call strangers Mom and Dad? Not even trying to manage the emotions of the other four kids? Acting like she's intentionally trying to hurt everyone by being homesick? Allowing the siblings to treat her like crap and blaming her for getting kidnapped at the age of 3? Truly great parenting. The second book in the series touches on this but the remaining ones really drive home how stuck the Spring parents are. They really seem to think that Janie would somehow become that 3-year-old again and it would be as if the kidnapping never happened. If anyone ever needed family therapy stat, it was this bunch.

 

This! I remember reading those books back in middle school and thinking her parents were a bit much. I bought it for the my Kindle recently and I'm more angry with them at 30, than I was at 12. They demanded that she go by Jennie; her birth name instead of Janie the name she spent most of her life as and whenever she said her name was Janie and not Jennie they gave her lectures. When she wasn't calling them Mommy and Daddy right away and had the audacity to call the people who raised her Mom and Dad they flipped out.The Springs said her parents (the people who raised her) were just nice people who took care of her and she's with her real family now. The poor thing wasn't even in therapy. I remember reading a similar book in middle school where the main character's dad kidnapped her at a young age (the title escapes me now). When that character was reunited with her mom they took it slow and the girl was immediately put into therapy. The Springs were like "Oh you're our kid so you're happy now", even though Janie was crying herself to sleep every night. Her older sister and brother gave her hell for "not trying" when she had been with the family less than a week! 

 

 

Mary Anne's dad was super-strict with her and made her wear her hair in braids and basically look like a little girl.  And yeah, Claudia's parents were Tiger Parents in the sense that she didn't "fit" the stereotype of the "perfect" Asian daughter.

 

I seem to remember in the early books Mary Anne still had to wear her hair in braided pigtails, had to wear dresses/little girl jumpers,  had nursery rhyme pictures on her walls (humpty dumpty, three blind mice,ect) and was only allowed in the club since it taught her "responsibility". It seemed like the littlest infraction would cause him to ban her from being in the club anymore, even though she was a sweet kid who didn't get into trouble and was a good student. She was clearly afraid of her father before he got together with Dawn's mom, even afterwards he was super strict, but she could wear her hair down, so yay?

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This! I remember reading those books back in middle school and thinking her parents were a bit much. I bought it for the my Kindle recently and I'm more angry with them at 30, than I was at 12. They demanded that she go by Jennie; her birth name instead of Janie the name she spent most of her life as and whenever she said her name was Janie and not Jennie they gave her lectures. When she wasn't calling them Mommy and Daddy right away and had the audacity to call the people who raised her Mom and Dad they flipped out.The Springs said her parents (the people who raised her) were just nice people who took care of her and she's with her real family now. The poor thing wasn't even in therapy. I remember reading a similar book in middle school where the main character's dad kidnapped her at a young age (the title escapes me now). When that character was reunited with her mom they took it slow and the girl was immediately put into therapy. The Springs were like "Oh you're our kid so you're happy now", even though Janie was crying herself to sleep every night. Her older sister and brother gave her hell for "not trying" when she had been with the family less than a week! 

 

 

Finally!  Someone else who has read those books! I've looked and looked and can't find any forums for the Janie series.  The older siblings were terrible and they never grew out of it either. Even as adults. And for the record, Stephen and Jodie were the ones who let Janie wander away in the mall to begin with because neither one liked their little sister that much.

 

I actually wrote a tiny fanfic piece where a therapist is reading Jodie the riot act for her behavior but I couldn't get past about page 3.

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I totally agree about the Springs. It was a terrible ordeal for them, but they could have been a lot more sensitive. And the older siblings were just awful. It was even worse in the TV movie adaptation when the brother tells her she's scum and wishes she'd never been found. But at least in that version he apologizes and admits that he was the one that let her wander off.

I really hated how in a later book when Janie's boyfriend Reeve sells out the family on his radio show for fifteen minutes of fame, he tries to justify it to Janie by saying "well, you were a brat to the Springs." Janie rightfully reads him the riot act, saying that she was FORCED into the decisions she made. I don't think anybody really understood that. I don't know why she would take Reeve back after that.

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Bumping up this thread to add Helen McMahon/Lena Grey from Maeve Binchy's The Glass Lake. She abandons her husband and children to run off with the former flame who dumped her...and later dumps her again. Was I supposed to feel sorry for her for taking so long to realize he was a douchebag? Hope he was worth it, lady!

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I forgot about her, Spartan Girl! If I remember correctly, then she blames her young daughter for making a judgment call and lays all her problems at the daughter's feet. I don't recall liking that book very much.

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I forgot about her, Spartan Girl! If I remember correctly, then she blames her young daughter for making a judgment call and lays all her problems at the daughter's feet. I don't recall liking that book very much.

That's exactly what happens. The daughter mistakes her farewell note to her husband as a suicide note (because everyone assumes she drowned herself in the lake) and so she burns it because she wants her mother to have a Christian burial. So then everyone assumes that she just drowned.

Yeah, it was really unfair for Helen/Lena to blame her for burning the note and causing everyone to think she died. She was a GROWN WOMAN that made her own choice. Kit was just a confused little girl.

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Bumping up this thread to add Helen McMahon/Lena Grey from Maeve Binchy's The Glass Lake. She abandons her husband and children to run off with the former flame who dumped her...and later dumps her again. Was I supposed to feel sorry for her for taking so long to realize he was a douchebag? Hope he was worth it, lady!

So much word! I love Maeve Binchy and I love "The Glass Lake" but Lena/Helen was just a horrible person. I have zero sympathy for her when her boyfriend cheats on her because what the hell did she think was going to happen? Kit's father was such a mensch and all she did was basically crap on him the whole book. I never understood why she got sympathy from anyone in that book.

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Let's not forget Jane Eyre's guardians from infancy onward. First there's her legal guardian Aunt Reed who instantly hates her as a baby for having been the apple of her soon-to-be-dead husband's eye whilst Uncle Reed had been indifferent to their own offspring- and ONLY keeps Jane due to her dying husband compelling her to promise her to care for their orphaned niece. Then she spends the girl's entire childhood openly favoring her OWN bratty son even to the point of locking her in the Red Room (the book's start) for refusing to admit the misdeed the boy was trying to frame her for AND for not 'apologizing' to the boy. Of course, when THAT doesn't break Jane, she sends her off to Lowood School and gives the sadistic headmaster extra ammo to pick on Jane even MORE. Lastly, she has the grown Jane summoned to her OWN deathbed JUST to curse her one last time (and fess up to her origins of hating her) as well as pathetically clinging onto her rotten son having NOT ruined the family but projecting ALL her hatred and frustrations for how her own life turned out on Jane.

  Oh and then Lowood's Mr. Brocklehurst does HIS best to break Jane even ordering all the other students to treat Jane like a leper and being oblivious to the plague outbreak at his school and doing nothing to get treatment for Jane or her doomed friend Helen.

 

 I can't help but wonder if the Red Room as well as Aunt Reed as well as Mr. Brocklehurst may have been based on own incidents and people on Miss Bronte's life.

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Cathy from East of Eden has to be one of the worst mothers. One of my ciritcisms of that book is how one dimensional Cathy is. She's just all evil all day long. I wish she'd been a bit more complex.

I always read Cathy like she was supposed to be a psychopath who just saved murder for when it was convenient to her instead of becoming a serial killer. She is literally incapable of complexity because she's unable to have emotions or feelings.

 

I got through Eleanor and Park, and WOW, that stepdad is a piece of work. And her actual parents are pretty shitty people as well. Those poor kids.

Edited by methodwriter85

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While I agree with Cathy in "EOE" was evil, I've often wondered what kind of upbringing SHE  had had and why she was so eager to kill her own parents and had no regrets about innocent folks being framed for the double-murder.

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I'm kind of disappointed that there isn't a best parents thread because I want to nominate Treadway and Jacinta from the book Annabel by Kathleen Winter. I was expecting to get two people who reject there intersexed child but they just loved him.

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While I agree with Cathy in "EOE" was evil, I've often wondered what kind of upbringing SHE  had had and why she was so eager to kill her own parents and had no regrets about innocent folks being framed for the double-murder.

IIRC her parents were perfectly normal and loving, no abuse or neglect or anything else that people blame for kids turning out evil. (Well, they did give her a name beginning with "C" and all the people with those types of names in the book were bad, or at least dark. They should have called her Anna.) That was a flaw in the book, to me--Steinbeck never tried to account for why she turned out the way she did. I guess no explanation would really be convincing. 

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While I agree with Cathy in "EOE" was evil, I've often wondered what kind of upbringing SHE  had had and why she was so eager to kill her own parents and had no regrets about innocent folks being framed for the double-murder.

 

 

IIRC her parents were perfectly normal and loving, no abuse or neglect or anything else that people blame for kids turning out evil. (Well, they did give her a name beginning with "C" and all the people with those types of names in the book were bad, or at least dark. They should have called her Anna.) That was a flaw in the book, to me--Steinbeck never tried to account for why she turned out the way she did. I guess no explanation would really be convincing. 

 

Cathy was written as a "bad seed" from the beginning. There's a scene in her early childhood where Cathy was found with two boys tieing her up with the implication that she was consenting to it. Cathy's parents were written as fairly normal, but Steinbeck did make it seem that she was never a good girl.

 

I love East of Eden, but Cathy, the character and characterization, does bother me in an otherwise well written book.

 

I'm kind of disappointed that there isn't a best parents thread because I want to nominate Treadway and Jacinta from the book Annabel by Kathleen Winter. I was expecting to get two people who reject there intersexed child but they just loved him.

 

Feel free to start one. :)

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This is a kids' book, but Mary Anne's dad in the Baby-sitters' Club (especially the early ones, which I was reading back in the 80s).  Seriously, dude, I know you want to protect your kid, but she's in middle school.

Stoneybrook was FILLED with bad parents. Kristy's dad, Stacey's dad, both of Dawns's parents, and poor freaking Mallory had to take care of her younger siblings all the time.

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Stoneybrook was FILLED with bad parents. Kristy's dad, Stacey's dad, both of Dawns's parents, and poor freaking Mallory had to take care of her younger siblings all the time.

 

Not to mention Jenny Prezioso.  Didn't her mom dress her like a princess all the time?  I can't believe I still remember these books.  I don't think I've read a BSC book since the early 90s.

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A lot of the clients' parents were bad. I am sure part of it was to make the sitters look like amazing super sitters, but it was just one of many things that made me wonder about Ann M. Martin and her worldview.

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Rachel Creed's parents in Pet Semetary were kind of shitty. I have no patience for the disapproving in-laws trope, and picking a fight at your grandson's funeral is pretty low. Then there's the fact that instead of hiring an RN to keep tabs on Zelda when she was dying, they just get Rachel to do it, which ends up scarring her for life.

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I just re-read "Gone With the Wind" for reasons unknown to me. Scarlett O'Hara is a shitty mother, although I will give her props for having the self-awareness to realize it. Rhett is a decent stepfather, but way too overindulgent with Bonnie. And I just realized that when Melanie's dying, Scarlett leaves Wade and Ella with Prissy at the hotel (in Marietta, I think) to rush to Melly's bedside, and then runs home to tell Rhett she loves him after all. I'm really hoping she remembered to get the kids and take them back to Tara with her.

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The Boleyn/Howard clan in The Other Boleyn Girl were just the worst. They prostituted their own daughters to the king for their own ambitions, and then screwed Anne over to save their own skin.

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