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Flowers (And Family Dysfunction) 'In The Attic'

I wish I could say that I love Flowers in the Attic -- V.C. Andrews' mega-best-selling 1979 book -- because it's a classic coming-of-age tale: a story of fierce familial bonds, and feelings of alienation and belonging.

But it's not that at all. This story is just twisted.

Told from the perspective of the teenage daughter Cathy, the story is about the four beautiful blond-haired Dollanganger kids, who are forced to live in the attic while their cruel and conniving mother earns back her father's affection and ultimately his fortune.

The promised days-long confinement stretches into weeks and then years -- yes, years!

All the while, the kids are starved and tormented by the religiously overzealous grandmother who beats them with her bamboo whip and tars poor Cathy's hair while she's drugged in her sleep.

It's a sick, sick tale. And I love it.

I love Cathy -- beautiful Cathy -- most of all. She becomes a surrogate mother to her younger twin siblings. She is noble in her suffering and achingly honest in her yearning. Like Cathy, the 14-year-old me who first read this book was an expert at yearning. "I wanted what every teenager wants," Cathy says. "Freedom to develop into a woman, freedom to have full control over my life!" Me too, Cathy!

Flowers in the Attic is also an irresistible love story -- of forbidden love, of course. Not the Romeo and Juliet kind when the lover is from the wrong family. This is forbidden love because the lover is in the same family.

It's abominable. And I know that I should turn away from the passages when Cathy and her brother Chris seem to be falling for each other. "Oh golly-lolly," I think as Cathy exclaims often. But still, I eagerly read on because I think: a) They're probably not really related; this "family" is full of secrets after all; and b) it's true love.

The ill-fated romance of Cathy and Chris is captivating. Not in the Shakespearean way. Instead, think Luke and Laura, General Hospital's super couple back in the summer of 1980, falling in love in tawdry motels while they were on the run.

Flowers in the Attic spawned three sequels and now countless series featuring other young heroines with shocking family secrets. But I will only confess to having read this one.

My Guilty Pleasure is edited and produced by Ellen Silva.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Heidi W. Durrow