The year was 1998, and I was in year 7. I loved Titanic and the Spice Girls, and had postcard collections for both that I was deeply invested in.
I’d finally convinced my parents I was mature enough to watch Scream, a huge win for me at the time, and I basically thought I was 16 because I read Dolly magazine religiously and watched Buffy and Dawson’s Creek.
I’d had to fight for the right to do all of these things, and if you’d asked 12-year-old me, I would’ve told you that my parents were trying to ruin my life and social standing for even attempting to stop me from reading and watching whatever I wanted, because I was dramatic, and a brat. Let’s give past-me a break, though, she’d just started her period, it was a whole thing. The point is, I’d always thought they were hella strict until recently, when I remembered that my whole friendship group read the entire Flowers in the Attic series when we were in year seven.
It’s not just me, my friendship group, or even just my school, though. When I went off to high school, all my new friends had also read it before they turned 13. Over the years, I’ve asked various friends how old they were when they first read it, and the answer has never been over 14. It’s a rite of passage, we all agree! But like… in hindsight, is it not a bit odd that no one’s parents were ever like “um, maybe I won’t let my child read this gothic horror novel about child abuse and incest”?
To give you a refresher, here just a few things that happen in Flowers in the Attic:
- The grandmother pours tar all over Cathy’s extensively-discussed, beautiful blonde hair to punish her, because her brother Chris was checking out her boobs
- Cathy kisses her mother’s new boyfriend, Bart
- Chris rapes Cathy because he’s jealous that Cathy kissed Bart
- The rest of the incest: Aside from learning that Corrine and the recently deceased Christopher Senior were related — which is why Corrine was disowned and the kids ended up in the attic in the first place — there are also a ton of incestuous undertones between Cathy and her father, and between Corrine and Chris. It’s just… everywhere.
- Corrine poisons the kids with arsenic-laced donuts, killing Cory, because she’s straight up sick of having kids and wants to live a glamorous life, unburdened by the responsibility of the four children she has locked up in the attic
This is just in the first book! There’s another three (four if you count the prequel) that follow the Dollangangers, and things only get more hectic from there. There’s more physical abuse, when Cathy marries Julian, who sucks, there’s plenty more grown men preying on young girls. Aside from Chris still trying to convince Cathy to be with him, Cathy’s off seducing all kinds of older men, from the doctor they live with to her mother’s new husband, ‘coz our gal is out for revenge. Oh, and let’s not forget that while Cathy is married to Julian, he sexually abuses Carrie, who later eats her own arsenic-laced donuts so she can join her long-deceased twin brother Cory in death. This still feels like just the tip of the iceberg, but I really can’t get into If There Be Thorns, because Cathy’s kids are — unsurprisingly — a whole new level of messed up.
My point is, reading this as a 12-year-old, I loved these books. I loved these characters. I cried when Cory died. I literally wanted Carrie’s beautiful giant doll’s head, all big eyes and perfect blonde curls, but stunted from being trapped in an attic with no sunlight or nutrients for four years. I was like, “sounds great, sign me up!”
I remember thinking “oh, Chris just couldn’t help himself because that’s how beautiful Cathy is, and he’s been trapped in the attic for so long” when he raped Cathy. When he continued to pursue her, I was like “wow he loves her so much!”, and actively rooting for them to be together, because “after everything they’d been through, they only had each other” and “they weren’t hurting anyone or having children”. YIKES!
Anyway, lucky lil’ 12-year-old me finally got her way in Seeds of Yesterday.
This has been a story about the most problematic couple I have ever loved together. Maybe it’s just me, and the rest of you weren’t actively hoping that a love spawned from neglect, abuse and rape would be able to go the distance, but my dumbass 12-year-old self sure did, and I’m not the only one! (I checked, before I wrote this. I was not about to expose myself like this if it turned out I was the only one!).
Okay so back in my day all us teens were reading Flowers in the Attic and I thought oh Chris and Cathy (siblings) ? are meant to be together. Time passed and now I cringe at my younger self cause naw that’s just nasty pic.twitter.com/W79KoAXb8O
— Ellie Silva (@teapetrichor) March 1, 2020
I try really hard not to like the incest relationship between Cathy & Chris in Flowers In The Attic. Though I fail quite miserably at it ?
— ???? (@swiftsbway) April 23, 2014
I STILL FEEL LIKE IAN & LUCY LIKE EACH OTHER & SHIP THEM SO MUCH FUCK THE INCEST I SHIPPED CATHY & CHRIS ON FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC #Happyland
— liam follow tina (@awelirry) October 29, 2014
lol listen I lowkey shipped Cathy & Chris in Flowers in the Attic, they're siblings lol
— Michele~pick up Green Arrow & the Canaries~ (@MimiC1019) May 10, 2017
Be honest there isn't a man or woman alive that would kill for a chance to have such a intensely deep and heart wrenching Love that Cathy and Chris shared! Here's to Cathy and Chris the modern day Romeo and Juliet! Flowers in the Attic #FlowersInTheAttic https://t.co/MHu4FRHN1Q
— Edgars Freibergs (@Nightshade_Nine) September 5, 2018
Basically I feel like if I ever had a child, I’d make them wait until they were, I don’t know, 16? Before they read it.
It is a rite of passage, after all.