Now, lets get one thing straight. I am a big fan of V.C. Andrews. Huge. In fact, I can still remember the day my teenage self found of a copy of My Sweet Audrina in my high school library and not only read, but devoured the book in the space of a few days, much to the ire of my English teacher Ms Richards. Hell, this was even the famous book that I got caught reading under the desk in the old CBHS "focus room". (Other high schools had Withdrawal Rooms. We had a Focus Room. Same as we had "Pastoral Care" first thing in the morning, the two campuses were known as the East and the West with the train line serving as a pseudo Berlin wall and when we addressed our principal as Mr Cock we were not, in fact, being rude or swearing. But I digress ...) Anyway, over the next three and a bit years I would devour all of the titles written by the original author (who was always known as Virginia Andrews in Australia and her books were published by HarperCollins UK,) and the early titles written by ghostwriter Andrew Neiderman (which were always published under the name of V.C. Andrews by Simon & Schuster Australia and contained a note in the front by the V.C. Andrews trust explaining that these were new books written by someone else. Simon & Schuster Australia stopped publishing a unique Australian edition after the release of the Early Spring series and since then, have imported the English edition.) Happily I read the Dollanganger, Casteel, Cutler, Landry and first four volumes of the Logan sagas.
And then the Orphans mini-series was released.
It was June, 1998. This was around the time I was enjoying the new Garbage album Version 2.0 (I'd been converted after seeing an absolutely brilliant clip for one of their songs on Rage,) and studying the work of Rene Margritte in my art class. I was studying Shakespeare Sonnets in my advanced English class. A close friend (who I had gone right through school with,) was suffering cancer, my friend Hayley had moved away and I was ... well, frankly I was a bit of a pain in the arse to be around in those days. Anyway, I'm digressing again. A new V.C. Andrews series had debuted. And I was not happy. I knew the difference between Literature and popular fiction. And until then I had always considered V.C. Andrews to be good popular fiction.
You know, whoever designed the covers for those books really ought to have actually read the content. Especially when they repeated the same style covers for the far darker and adult-themed Wildflowers series a year later. The covers for the Orphans books were not only bright and colourful, but, and here was the big error on the part of Simon and Schuster, numbered. That's right. Butterfly had a nice big #1 on it, Crystal #2, Brooke #3 and Raven #4. The blurbs described the story in very simple terms and the characters as young, vulnerable children.
To me, the books just looked childish and silly. It wasn't until about two years ago that I actually picked them up and read them again, along with the final book in the series, that the whole thing made sense. It was, in fact, a mini-series, much like some of the work that other authors such as Stephen King had put out in roughly the same era. But anyway, with the release of the Orphans series, it was obvious that something had changed. The magic was gone.
Over the next few years, the Logan series would be completed with Olivia (originally to have been titled Muted Voices,) and two more mini-series The Wildflowers (arguably the best of the three mini-series,) and Shooting Stars (so dull it makes The Orphans look good,) and two more family sagas, The four volume Hudson series and five and a half volume De Beers series. (I say five and a half, because one of the volumes in the series was a short novella titled Dark Seed that was originally published as an eBook and is now included with copies of Hidden Leaves.) From then on, all new V.C. Andrews releases would either be two or three book series or stand alone novels. And therein lies one of the problems with the books. The second problem is several recurring themes, which I will address below:
1. The Douche Bag Boyfriend.
It seems that every modern V.C. Andrews heroine will, at some point, be courted by some horny little bastard from a rich family whose objective is wholly and solely to use her for sexual purposes. Once spurned, the horny little bastards interest usually turns into a full scale obsession that sometimes results in rape (ie Phillip Cutler, The Cutler Saga) or an obsessive love from afar (Adam Jackson The Logan Saga). Occasionally, the character just spreads a few rumours and fades into the background, such as in Secrets in the Attic or Forbidden Sister. Occasionally, characters such as Rain Arnold or Willow DeBeers do fall for the charms of the horny bastard, but I'm scratching my head to understand why.
The novels by the original V.C. Andrews contained no such characters, though often the heroine would be courted by a complex and often weak male, such as the appropriately named Arden Lowe from My Sweet Audrina or Logan Stonewall from the Casteel Saga, who truly loved the heroine but lacked the ability to stand up for her when she needed him the most and also to keep their pants on when the heroine's sister was around.
It is also worth noting that in the Casteel Saga, fifteen year old Heaven was seduced by a man ten years her senior. However, it is also clear that Cal Dennison's seduction were not merely the actions of a horny teenager, but a calculated, predatory attack by an intelligent adult who could see the heroine's vulnerability.
2. Rape or Attempted Rape.
Practically every heroine since Dawn is the survivor of rape, attempted rape or some form of molestation. Then again, so too were all of the heroines from the novels by the original author. The big difference is, in the novels by the original author, this was often an important plot point and was dealt with sympathetically. My Sweet Audrina perfectly showcased the lifelong scars that the heroine experienced after the trauma of being gang raped for example. The Casteel series shows how one act of rape affects the lives of three generations of women. (Four if Jillian Tatterton, who was not an innocent victim, thought she would suffer for her actions, is counted.)
With the ghostwritten books, rape or attempted rape seems to be included for little more than shock value and is something that the heroine forgets easily.
3. Date Rape.
In both Heavenstone Secrets and Family Storms the heroines are drugged by their older or adoptive sisters and raped by a willing accomplice. In Heavenstone Secrets this led to the ultimately bizarre plot twist where the heroine does not realise that she is pregnant until she is seven months gone. In Family Storms we have a stupid but slightly more believable plot twist where the adopted sister wanted to the heroine to fall pregnant in order to humiliate her and have her sent away from the family. Neither adequately address the feelings of betrayal or humiliation that anyone who is the victim of being drugged and raped would go through and is dealt with rather flippantly.
3. Recycled Names.
Okay, I'll forgive any author for giving minor characters the same or similar first names in different books, particularly if those names reflect the time and place of where the novel is set. In the world of V.C. Andrews we have a number of central characters who share the same first name. I've always been slightly unforgiving of the fact that the grandmother in the Logan saga was named Olivia and had a book named after her, when the well-known family matriarch from the Dollanganger saga was Olivia. A more surprising coincidence is that the heroine in the Early Spring series is named Jordan March and so too is the adoptive mother from the Storms series. (And no, they are not the same character.) Another surprising one is the two Jacks that appear in Hidden Jewel. The first Jack, Jack Weller, is a horny bastard who attempts to rape the heroine Pearl. The second Jack, Jack Clovis, is Pearl's love interest. And that's not even mentioning the fact that her great-grandfather was also named Jack and featured in three novels in the saga. Here are a few other characters we've seen with the same or similar names:
Laura Sue Cutler (Cutler) and Laura Logan* (Logan)
Melodie Richarme (Dollanganger) and Melody Logan* (Logan)
Paul Sheffield (Dollanganger) and Paul Tate (Landry)
Cory Dollanganger/Foxworth (Dollanganger) and Cary Logan (Logan)
Cathy Dollanganger/Foxworth/Sheffield* (Dollanganger) and Cathy "Cat" Carson* (the Wildflowers)
*Denote character was the heroine of at least one novel
4. Repetitive Language.
I smile impishly and my eyes become beady every time I read the same, repetitive language in each novel. Granted, some of the more recent releases have tried to address this.
5. Immature or childish language.
Hell, what is it with some of these characters? At seventeen years old, they are still calling their parents Mommy or Momma, and Daddy. Who does that? Yes, Cathy Dollanganger/Forworth called her mother Momma, but this was because she was twelve when the novel opened. As an adult, she only does so when she regresses into her childhood, such as at the end of If There be Thorns.
6. Two part series and stand alone instead of family sagas.
According to the official V.C. Andrews facebook page, the family sagas were stopped at the request of bookstores who wanted to cut down on the number of V.C. Andrews releases per year. A more likely scenario is that, due to the declining quality, the books were no longer selling as highly as they used to.
The problem with this is that the two part and stand alone novels do not always answer questions that were raised in the novels and don't always explain the motives of various characters. The Casteel series brilliantly showcases how the selfish decisions of one couple impact on three generations of women and each has her own story to tell.
* * *
Obviously, the books still contain enough material to hold my interest--in fact I've made at least some positive comments about the last two releases, Daughter of Light and Forbidden Sister. However, it seems that there are a number of problems with the books that the ghostwriter and publisher are reluctant to address, despite frequent poor reviews of well, practically everything post-Logan saga.