If There Be Thorns (Dollanganger #3), by V.C. Andrews

Eight stars

No matter how chaotic one’s life can be, running away can sometimes only make things worse. Chris and Cathy have tried to do this, fleeing the horrors of South Carolina and Virginia for the wonders of California. With Bart and Jory alongside them, Cathy’s boys are ready to enjoy a quieter life. While both know their fathers have passed on, neither Bart nor Jory realise that Chris is not their true step-father—the story they have been told—and that their mother has been fostering numerous secrets from her past. When a wealthy woman moves in next door, both boys develop an interest in learning more about their neighbour. This veiled and elderly woman seems to have a full complement of staff, including a curt butler who keeps them away from the wall separating the properties. Never one to let a wall deter him, Bart develops a relationship with the woman, who asks that he call her ‘grandmother’, seeking gifts and promises at every turn. When Bart is not in the presence of the mistress of the house, the wily butler seeks to advise Bart that this woman is actually his mother’s mother and that the Foxworth family has many secrets about which the boys ought to know. Bart is presented with a journal from his great-grandfather, Malcolm Foxworth, the patriarch from the original novel in the series who started much of the chaos that has created issues for the past few decades. Bart begins to exhibit highly troubling behaviours, at times thinking himself Malcolm reincarnated. As Chris and Cathy become concerned about Bart’s behaviour, they welcome a new addition to the family, adopting young Cindy, creating a new and interesting dynamic in the household. When Jory and Bart are told the truth about Chris and Cathy’s connection, the understanding that the incestuous relationship has been building for years. Torn about how to feel about the revelations, Jory must help extract Bart from the clutches of their grandmother and keep the Foxworth past from tainting their bucolic life in California. However, as the series fan will know, when it comes to the Dollangangers and Foxworths, nothing is done smoothly or without dramatic flair. As the narrative builds and all secrets are revealed, someone will have to pay as both sides wrestle for control of Jory and Bart and the blood history coursing through their veins. Another interesting addition by V.C. Andrews that presents some interesting loose threads for the final novel chronological novel in the series. I’ll have to see how it ends, if only to quell my curiosity. Series fans may enjoy this one, though some may begin to wonder if things have stretched past their plausible limits.

As V.C. Andrews continues to spin the web that is this series, she seeks to add depth for her readers. While one must understand that the series remains part of the ‘young adult horror’ genre, the plots have not been too vapid, nor are they as sexually shocking as in the previous two novels. Still, Andrews seems to branch out and create storylines for two characters from the next generation of Dollanganger offspring. Jory and Bart take the reins of narrative control in this piece, permitting the reader to explore their lives as the struggles they both possess. Jory has some understanding of his past, but was duped into believing that his mother was mostly virtuous after his own father’s death years ago. He is also the moral compass as he tries to steer clear of the woman next door, who gives off a vibe of awkwardness and eerie darkness. His own life is that of a dancer, though he can see his younger brother becoming more and more troublesome. Bart, on the other hand, knows little about the torment that his own conception and birth brought to the family. Series fans will know that Bart’s birth was part of a complex tug-of-war between Cindy and her mother, trying to lure the same man into their own lives. Now, Bart seems highly susceptible to the wiles of both his maternal grandmother and her sadistic butler, who wants to create a new Malcolm Foxworth. As Chris and Cindy remain staples in the story, other than the revelation of their ongoing incestuous actions, they play a smaller part of the overall plot. Still, there are some struggles they face with their three children. Many others make appearances throughout to thicken the plot, though much of the story relates to learning more bout Malcolm’s past, which may shed a great deal of light on the highly religious and strict moral code that Chris and Cindy faced as children. Perhaps the least dramatic or shocking of the three books to date, Andrews still takes readers on a rollercoaster ride throughout and tries to plant new and interesting offshoots in the major plot of her series. With some of the drastic goings-on towards the end of the book, there is no doubt the final novel in the chronological aspect of the series will have much to solve, keeping curious readers enthralled and wondering. In a series that seems to spark much nostalgia for many readers, I am interested to let my adult sensibilities act as a literary sieve to offer some modern sentiments.

Kudos, Madam Andrews, for keeping me wondering throughout this piece. I know some feel things have gone too far off the rails to be plausible, but some suspension of reality is surely expected by you to keep the plots fresh and surprising.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons