Breaking Taboos ’80s Style

Flowers in the Attic

It is so appropriate to colour hope yellow, like that sun we seldom saw.

I have to admit, that in a teenagery fashion, this book caught my attention. In its heyday it was the book to be seen reading, the book to sneakily read behind your parents back and the book to start (and finish) all book chats. Flowers in the Attic, had had its day by the time it was my turn to teen and so I only discovered this gothic cult-hit YA book recently. But any YA book with such a tawdry and tabloid-y reputation such as Flowers in the Attic called to the inner teen in me and demanded immediate attention.

The Dollanganger family are considered to be perfectly beautiful in every way, thank you very much. Corinne and Christopher Dollanganger are happily married, living with their four gorgeous, blonde children – Christopher, Cathy and the twins Carrie and Cory. But when tragedy strikes, their perfect world is shattered. Crippled by debt, Corinne is forced to return to her wealthy parent’s house with the children in tow, only to discover that her father has insisted that any inheritance will be relinquished if she has had children with her first husband. In an act of desperation, she agrees to hide her children in the attic, until such a time that they can be together again.

Told from the perspective of Cathy, Flowers in the Attic is certainly a dark and uncomfortable read. It deals with issues of parental abandonment, survival, neglect, abuse and, probably most controversial of all, incest. It is this last taboo that piqued and has kept the interest in Andrews’ tale – the idea that two siblings, who under extreme circumstance, are drawn to each other – which, frankly, seemed a forced and unnecessary addition if truth be told. The Gothic nature of the story is present enough without it but Andrews pushes the boundaries to make her point nevertheless.

The ridiculously flamboyant language used throughout the book is an interesting choice of narrative style, one reminiscent of those awful (and typically American) soap operas. But, much like the melodramatic stylings of Sunset Beach, Days of Our Lives, etc., Flowers in the Attic is strangely hypnotic – you might not be wholly convinced by the events on the page but you certainly want to read more. For example, Chris and Cathy escape their attic prison to bathe in the nearby lake – why would they have patiently waited for three and a half years for their obscene mother to return if there is a clear way to leave?! They are strong, creative characters so they surely would have found a way for all four of them to escape sooner!

Realism aside, there is a clear reason Andrews’ Dollanganger series shines above the others she wrote and why it continues to linger in the canon of teen fiction. It’s a guilty secret, a trashy television show made paperback and, above all, it is still a talking point. There are moments in the story that will still shock even the most liberal YA reader today The literature student in me would love to laughably deny the possibility of my reading any more of the Dollanganger series but I fear the lure of another dose of guilty pleasure might just win out…

3 star

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