As a preteen girl, my reading diet was rather heavy on empty calories found in glossy teen-romance books. The Sweet Valley High series was a mainstay, the storylines giving shape to the hope and angst I felt but was too young to name for myself. I liked that troubles always worked out in the end and that the girl always got the guy. These were simple, easy reads, depicting how I wished my life would go. I read them until one fateful day, when my quick-witted aunt grabbed a copy to see what I was chewing on. She then gave an impromptu reading. With great humor and exaggerated inflection, my aunt brought the story to life—and sent me into fits of laughter. She exposed the books for what they were (unrealistic and a tad corny) and shooed me on to deeper reading waters.
My sister’s bookshelf was where I ventured for that substance. Of all the books I pulled from her collection, the ones by V. C. Andrews have had the most staying power. Her Flowers in the Attic haunted me, although I couldn’t put it down. It was full of taboo that was especially shocking after my steady dose of saccharine Sweet Valley reads. Twisted and dark, the story bluntly told of abuse, incest, and greed. Despite the dark nature, it felt more real somehow than the stories I had been reading, even if it was told within a story-line that, at the time, seemed completely unrealistic to my sheltered heart and mind.
When I read Flowers in the Attic—and the rest of the books by Andrews—I was not a Christian. The filter through which I ran the content of these books was not one influenced by redemption truth. I readily took it all in. Still, my conscious was pricked by these bent tales. Mostly I felt guilty because I wanted to read more.
In 1987, Flowers in the Attic was made into a movie. What I remember is being sorely disappointed. Whatever dark magic the story had cast from the page was lost from the screen, especially with the many plot line changes and the dismal acting.
Interestingly enough, it was hearing the dialogue spoken in that movie that spurred an awakening similar to the one I experienced when my aunt read that Sweet Valley High book. Hearing the words spoken by real people broke the story’s spell upon me. I admit I was disappointed to be released. Soon after I decided to put those books aside as well.
The magic of Flowers in the Attic is being given another shot on Lifetime as a two-hour TV movie special that aired just this past weekend. I had forgotten it was playing, so I missed the premiere showing, but I watched clips on the Web site to see if I should track down the next showing. The acting reminded me a bit too much of the 1987 original, although perhaps seeing the clips chopped up the flow enough to ruin it for me. Reviews have been mixed, although performances by Kiernan Shipka and Ellen Burstyn have gotten praise. What I saw from the clips was enough, however, to stir my memories and get me thinking about those books.
My approach to the story is different today—I have many years of reading and life behind me now. Also, I have since come to know the Gospel, the story that trumps all stories in terms of beauty and intrigue and danger and redemption. Interestingly enough, it wasn’t until my ears heard the beauty of the Gospel spoken aloud to me that the truth of those words was made real. As much of a reader as I am, hearing words spoken is equally powerful, bringing life to words and exposing some words as false. I can still get engrossed in a read, lost in my inner world. When I was a girl reading Sweet Valley High and the series by Andrews, I looked to those pages to help me in my growing up, but I kept it all inside where nothing else could breathe life into it or scatter away the make believe. I now know that it is good for me to talk out what’s rolling around in my heart and mind, to give it voice and bring it into balance with reality—a reality that is now, for me, based on the Word of God.
Although both of those youth lit series played a huge part in my growing up, neither had staying power or substance enough to hold my attention. Both fell flat, unable to hold me when reality hit and I had to truly live in reality. I am grateful for God’s story that captured me away from both the saccharine sweet of teen romance and the luring dark of the gothic fairytale. I still love a good story, and I still find myself lost in pages of books. But now I have the filter of the Gospel to help me process the world’s versions of dark and light. Now it’s God’s story that I look to for help in growing up and living real life.