Thursday, April 24, 2008

Crimes of Literature: 'Flowers in the Attic'

Our book club is reading "Twilight," the first book in Stephanie Meyers' series of the same name, and it's not bad. My friend and fellow member S. teaches middle school English, and she wanted to see what all her students were raving about. What I've read so far suggests that Meyers has a keen awareness of what high school and adolescence is really like. In any case, it's nice to know that a decent book aimed at young readers is doing well. It's much better than a certain series that was popular when I was an impressionable teenager.

When I was 14, every girl I knew was obsessed with V.C. Andrews' "Flowers in the Attic" series. I was always reading something, so my mom never asked me what that particular set of books was about, thank God. I was thus spared the humiliation of explaining that "Flowers in the Attic" was essentially a love story — about a brother and a sister. "Their evil grandma locked them and their siblings in an attic. So they went through puberty up there, right? And even though they knew it was wrong, they were really in love!"

I've leafed through the books once or twice as an adult, and frankly, they're indefensible. Aside from their absurd plot twists (Wait, Catherine was stuck in an attic for a few years but somehow kept up her dance training to become a prima ballerina?), the writing is horrible. Eyes are not merely blue, but "cornflower blue." The only black people are kindly mammy/butler types. There seems to be a lot of sex, but only the kind that would fascinate someone who hadn't had any. I also noticed that the characters say "for" instead of "because," which comes up surprisngly often. As in: "I cannot forget you, Catherine, for you have captured my heart."

Seriously, what was I on? Because it's not like I stopped with "Flowers in the Attic." There was "Petals on the Wind," followed by "If There Be Thorns," "Seeds of Yesterday" and "Garden of Shadows." I read a few other V.C. Andrews books before I figured out that all of them had an icky edge of incest and were marinated in cliches. Like any respectable teenaged girl, I was a sucker for yarns about forbidden love. But I soon discovered others that actually had some literary merit ("The Thornbirds," "The Far Pavillions," etc.).

I know a few moms with teen girls, and whenever I tell them about "Flowers in the Attic," they're a) clueless and b) totally freaked out. Maybe they shouldn't be. Kids of a certain age are always going to find access to tasteless crap, but if you've done your job as a parent, they'll (probably) process it appropriately.

But if they start saying "for" instead of "because," you've been warned.

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