Flowers in the Attic (Dollanganger #1), by V.C. Andrews

Eight stars

With the novel that put V.C. Andrews on the map—and set the book-reading world aflutter—this piece seeks to explore the darkest and most seedy side of familial interactions and the extend to which blood can blind when placed in front of an extreme moral code. The Dollanganger family are living a wonderful life, two loving parents and four well-behaved children—Chris, Cathy, Cory, and Carrie. When news comes that the patriarch has died in a fiery crash, changes must be made. A slew of letters go out, seeking assistance, though the replies are slow. When Mother receives word from her own parents that she and the children may come to Virginia, the entire Dollanganger brood are overjoyed. However, there are certain stipulations. As Mother was tossed out of her childhood home and disinherited, she must hide the children away until she can convince her father to write her back into the will. And, he knows nothing of the children and can never be made aware. With all four children baffled about these strict rules, they are forced to accept that their mother knows best. Upon arriving at this old mansion, the children are introduced to their grandmother, who is as steely as she was made out to be. The children are locked in a room on the upper floor, forced to remain quiet, so as not to make their presence known to anyone. Receiving food once a day, these children must follow a regimen that includes highly moralistic rules and strong biblical teachings. The one night they are to be stashed away becomes a week, a month, and then more than a year. Chris and Cathy mature into young adulthood and become the surrogate parents to their younger twins. Trying to find a way out, they discover that this prison is one worse than they could have imagined. With the wickedness only increasing and their mother beginning to plot out her own life, winning her parents over after a scandalous union that saw her banished fifteen years ago, these children learn that they will have to fend for themselves. Hormones coursing through them and blood boiling at the deception they faced, it is time to take action, or remain wilting flowers in this gloomy attic forever. Chilling and graphic at times, Andrews has me hooked and wanting to know more. Recommended to the reader who has heard all about these pieces or remembers them from when they were released, but likely not a good book for readers who cannot stomach some odd inter-familial behaviours.

I knew little of the book before I began reading it, save that V.C. Andrews presented a high-impact incestuous storyline throughout. However, as scandalous as it sounds, the reader may better understand this underlying thread once they are able to explore the novel and series a little deeper. The characters come to life on the page, particularly the narration through the eyes of Cathy. As the surrogate mother, the reader is able to see her enter a forced maturity, from the apple of her father’s eye to fending for herself while protecting her younger siblings. Chris has the same maturation, though he presents as a little more standoffish before an intoxication with power, which some readers may justify while others condemn strongly. Other strong and supporting characters help fuel the cruel undertone of the piece, including The Grandmother and the children’s mother herself, giving the reader a sobering look at the extent to which some will exact their own moralistic code in order to keep some in line. Other readers may see an ongoing vapidity in these two, out of touch with what children need to foster strong and healthy characters. The story was surely disturbing on many levels, though I cannot see the extreme scandal in today’s more open-mined society as would have been present in the late 1970s and early 80s. Surely, as the book is deemed “Young Adult Horror”, those who read the book at the time have grown, as I have, to better understand some of the literary and societal nuances not grasped at the time. Not to say that this is condoned behaviour, taken out of context. I would like to read the rest of the series to see what is to come… but must wrestle with my TBR pile in order to give it the time it deserves.

Kudos, Madam Andrews, for a fabulous and surely memorable opening novel in this series. I will return to see how these flowers grow and what blossoms emerge.

This book fulfils Topic #2:Remember… in the Equinox #6 Reading Challenge.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: