If you aren’t familiar with the book, it centers around 4 brothers and sisters – Chris, Cathy, and Carrie and Cory are twins. They live a happy life with their parents – all of them blond and beautiful, but all that changes at the start of the book when their father is killed in a car accident. Their mother doesn’t know how to support her family (this is set in the late 19050’s) so she packs everyone up and informs them they are moving in with her rich parents, whom they have never met before.
Upon arrival at the mansion, the 4 children are informed that their grandfather does not know they exist yet, and they need to hide in a locked room until their mother can reveal the news to grandfather. At first, she makes it sound like they will be let out in just a day or 2, but time stretches on, and only grandmother knows they exist. Every morning, she brings them a picnic basket full of that day’s food. She has very strict rules they must follow, covering everything from being quiet to being modest, never sharing the bathroom or looking at the siblings of the opposite sex. She makes sure the children know that she believes them to be the product of evil – “Devil’s spawn” – and she has no love for them. Ol’ grandmother never ceases to remind the children that God is always watching and will punish the wicked.
Within the room, the children have access to the attic, where they can run and play and make noise. In an effort to keep the twins happy, Cathy and Chris begin to put up paper flower decorations as if trying to convince the twins it is not an attic but a beautiful garden. Chris hangs swings for the twins, and installs a barre so Cathy can continue to practice ballet, as she dreams of being a prima ballerina. Being rich, no one in the house seems to have thrown anything away, choosing to stuff forgotten belongings into the attic. The children find old clothes for dress-up, old records that skip, and many, many books. Chris dreams of being a doctor one day, and uses the books to continue his education, while Cathy uses them to escape to a world outside the attic.
To no ones surprise, the confinement in the attic continues on. Dear mother keeps telling the children she needs just a little longer, and the time between her visits begins to stretch out. Eventually, Chris and Cathy learn that their father was mom’s half-uncle, and the grandmother believes any offspring from such an incestuous relationship have to be filled with evil. The children suffer from the lack of sunshine and poor nutrition, and the twins never grow up, although their heads continue to grow, causing them to appear freakish. Cathy and Chris do keep growing, and as her body matures, she becomes very aware of her sexuality. Unfortunately, being the only girl her ever sees, Chris is also all too aware of his sister’s sexuality, and there are many passages of Chris gazing longingly at Cathy. Grandmother catches them one day, when Cathy – thinking herself alone – removes her clothes to admire her body in a mirror. Chris walks in, and is transfixed at the sight of his naked sister. Grandmother catches this scene, and her treatment of the children grows worse. She put tar in Cathy’s long, blond hair, and refuses to feed them anymore until Cathy cuts her hair off. 2 weeks go by before she returns with food, while the 4 children starve and resort to a few gross tactics to remain alive.
The children learn that mother has remarried. Cathy and Chris decide they must escape, but need money in order to do so. They make a key and begin to steal money from mother’s bedroom at night. While stealing, they also find a book full of sex photos in mom’s room, which doesn’t seem to help either teenager because eventually, Chris rapes Cathy, claiming that no matter what happens, she will be his forever.
Meanwhile, the children are having more health problems, and Cory becomes so sick that Cathy insists mother take him to the hospital. She returns the next day to inform them that Cory died of pneumonia. Chris and Cathy figure out that they have all been poisoned via the food and decide to escape after one last night of theft. When Chris returns, he tells Cathy that mother and her new husband appear to have packed it up and high-tailed it out of there, and he overheard 2 servants discussing how grandfather has been dead for 9 months. Dear ol’ mom never let them out because his will left his money to her with a rule that if it ever came out that she had kids from her previous or current marriage, she would lose all the money. Hence the poisoning. And so they escape. End of book, basically.
I was surprised to find that Flowers in the Attic is a lot less tawdry than I remember it being. Granted, there are plenty of references to sex and sexuality, but it is mostly in terms of a young girl’s dreams of romantic love and sexuality – budding breasts and sensuous full lips and the desire to be loved. The books are trashy and incestuous, but also still hooked me in. The writing is terrible, but the story grabbed me and wouldn’t let go, despite the fact that I vaguely remembered the plot details. I would love to put this in the school library as I believe it would be a great hook for reluctant readers, but the incest prohibits it.
I was planning to only re-read this one for now, and later in the year re-read further into the series, but when I finished Flowers this past weekend, I was compelled to head to the library and check out the next two, which I’ll write about in future posts. I do wonder what caused V. C. Andrews to be so drawn to incest, since I remember every book of her’s that I read revolved around it.