When I was a little girl, I learned to read at a very early age, around two. I was already a very verbally precocious child; I learned to speak very early on, and by two, loved to sing almost anything. So, when I started “reading books” to people around me, my parents of course thought I was merely repeating the stories I heard, crediting me with a fairly good memory. So, of course, they did what all parents do, and tricked me. They took away all my books and replaced them with new ones I hadn’t read. Of course, I started to read them, and it was official: I was labeled a “gifted child”.
However, I had a fault that would show up in most aspects of my life…I tended to use my gifts more for evil than good. By the time I was about 9, I knew more about sex,marriage, and relationships than many 22 year-olds, courtesy of all the Danielle Steel and Nora Roberts books my mother and aunt left lying about. I learned a lot of British history and developed a lifelong fondness for historical fiction via reading Kathleen Windsor’s often banned “Forever Amber“. I learned about adultery and bad marriages and getting away with murder via “Presumed Innocent” and “Reversal Of Fortune”.
And like most pre-teens with a dark side who would later become angsty teenagers with dark nails and too much eyeliner, I was obsessed with the dark, Gothic, “this-couldn’t-get-any-more-wrong” stories from V.C. Andrews, particularly the “Flowers In The Attic” series.
For those who haven’t read V.C. Andrews, they are written on about a 9th grade reading level, but are full of things you don’t want your pre-adolescent daughters reading about; violence, sex, always a parent who dies, incest, beautiful women who kill (often their childen), innocent young girls with artistic gifts who get pregnant as teenagers. an evil someone locked in something, adult men who like teenage girls…as many taboos as you can fit into one story.
Of course, all the books and all the series were usually the same, and followed the Victorian gothic “damsel in distress who becomes empowered” model, only set in upper-class Southern society. The haunted mansions didn’t differ much between London and Virginia. Yet, I read them all, and I even remember a great many of them today…even that Flowers In The Attic is this hugely creepy story about the Dollanganger family.
Of course, the first book was published before I was even born, so I was reading some of these books between 10-15 years after publication. If they were scandalous and banned then (I remember having a V.C. Andrews book confiscated for reading it during study hall), I can only imagine the trouble they caused in the 1970’s. I would later learn that most of V.C. Andrews’ books weren’t even written by her; she died when I was only a child, and her estate took over writing the books.
So, of course I was thrilled to see they were remaking this story I never forgot into a cleaned-up, accessible version for cable, broadcast on Lifetime, and starring Ellen Burstyn and Heather Graham (who is a terrible actress, but looks the part.) And when I heard they were debuting the third movie, If There Be Thorns, on Sunday (Easter Sunday, oddly), it was some odd coincidence that the second film was on that same night.
Of course I watched it, and of course it was the same trashy soap opera that the books were, but they reminded me of being 9 years old and absolutely devouring these twisted stories. And although most teenage girls have read V.C. Andrews’ books, especially girls who grew up in the 1980’s or 1990’s, I have a confession to make that is somewhat embarrassing.
Most people who know me knew that when I was very much younger, I fell in love with someone online and flew to meet him—in the days when doing that was weird and taboo and not an MTV show or Match.Com ad. I did so much to try to make a good impression, and I arrived in New Orleans about a day and a half before we agreed to meet. I had left a copy of a V.C. Andrews novel lying on a chair in the little 2 bedroom apartment I was staying in, and didn’t think twice about wanting to read it when he was sleeping or in the shower.
Before we broke up, he told me a few things that had surprised and disappointed him, and one was that I was not as high-brow and cultured as I’d wanted him to believe, because I was 21 and reading V.C. Andrews. *laughs*
I’m now in my early 30’s, and looking forward to a twisted Lifetime movie based on a V.C. Andrews book. Uncultured and low-brow? Perhaps. But nobody in the history of ever said “Hey, I can’t wait to see that War & Peace movie!”.
(* I’ve also read War And Peace)
(** You can’t wait for war so something interesting happens.)
Am I the only one? Who remembers “Flowers In The Attic” as some sort of adolescent rite of passage?