True story: When I was in fifth grade, I got sent to the principal’s office after my teacher spotted me hunched over a copy of Flowers in the Attic. My poor mother had to come get me and answer a slew of questions, including “are you aware of the material your daughter’s reading?” (she was) and whether I understood what was going on in the book (mostly.)
It’s since become a family joke but—to be fair—I now understand how any teacher would have been a wee bit appalled given the book’s content. Even in a liberal New York City elementary school.
In case you’re unfamiliar, V.C. Andrews’ cult 1979 gothic horror novel was essentially the Hunger Games of the ’80s and ’90s, and it’s sold more than 40 million copies worldwide. Unlike Hunger though, this plot is probably the most twisted thing you’ll ever —ever—read and mostly goes like this: After her husband dies suddenly, a happy mother takes her four beautiful children to live with her mother—their grandmother—in a huge estate in the Blue Ridge mountains.
In order to inherit a fortune, the young mother—for depraved reasons you’ll learn—agrees to lock the kids away in an attic for over two years, leaving them in the hands of their sadistic, abusive, God-fearing grandmother. That’s not all: While cooped up during their “developmental” years, the two older siblings Cathy and Chris develop, uh, special feelings for each other that results in a sexual relationship.
Believe it or not, the book—and the four others in the series—were a big deal when I was a kid in the ’90s and I took them very seriously. So, when I found all five during a recent move, I decided to re-read each one.
Topically, they’re still pretty messed up (although now I’m able to process the melodrama and cringe-y writing that permeates the series), but I found them to be less shocking than much of today’s pop culture we’re obsessed with.
Seriously: In middle school, Flowers in the Attic was the only source of stimulation my brain had. Now, 20 years later, all I have to do is check out Instagram and see Kim Kardashian‘s naked body, Kylie and Kendall almost kissing, and girls from college, well, doing the same thing.
If you’d told me 20 years ago that I’d be reading VC Andrews’ books as a reprieve for my overly pop culture-d brain, I probably would have
buried my nose in chapter four and ignored you not understood, but it’s true.
While I still might not suggest these books for a fifth grader, I do suggest them for anyone who’s unabashed in their fandom of kitschy slices of pop culture nostalgia—and those interested in putting down their phones and seeing what kids talked about before Kylie got lip injections.