Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews

Did this book traumatize you as as teen?

4/5 stars.
ebook, 416 pages.
Read on October 26, 2018.

So this is the book that disturbed a generation of teens! Huh, I can definitely see why. ‘Cause this book is the epitome of a fucked up childhood. This book is banned in a lot of places and I can see why but at the same time I’m not sure I believe in sheltering teens away from certain realities. By reading books like this one, teens open up their mind to the world around them and become aware that there is a good chance that someone they know is suffering from some form of child abuse.

Everything was perfect for the Dollanganger family, four beautiful, blonde children and their doting parents, but their idyllic family-life is brought to an abrupt halt when their father suddenly passes away in a car accident. For the twins, Chris and Cathy, they soon realize that their mother is no longer able to provide for them alone. Their mom then makes a decision to return to her wealthy parents for assistance, a reasonable decision. Or so it would seem; their mother has been keeping secrets from them. The children soon learn that their mother has been disowned by her own family due to the scandalous relationship that brought them into this world, and that if their mother wants to inherit the family fortune the children need to be hidden away until after their grandfather dies. Since they are children they reluctantly agree to the strange situation with their mother promising to return in a few days. Those days turn into weeks, months, and then years as the Dollanganger children live out some of their peak emotional and cognitive years in the confinement of their grandmother’s attic. Their situation is volatile and desperate but they deeply fear their grandmother so they only thing they can do is stick together and look out for each other.

Annnnnd that’s where I will end the book summary since things get particularly twisted from there on out. Most people approach this book knowing full well the pinnacle twisted moment so I’m going to spoil part of it… Chris rapes Cathy. It’s a tumultuous and sad scene as Chris has confused his love for his sister in not having any other contact to the outside world. There are also a number of horrific and heartbreaking scenes involving the grandmother and of course their despicable mother. The author does such a remarkable job in creating this terrible story that many people have wondered if any aspect of the story was real. The author claims this plot is a fictionalized version of a true story as part of the plot came from the author overhearing a story from a doctor during a stay in a hospital.

It’s hard to believe that this book is classified as YA because it sure doesn’t read like one. This book is twisted and it might be too much for people who have had the trauma of child abuse, rape or incest. Having said that, this book left its impression on a generation for better and for worse. I would let older teens read this if as a parent you’re comfortable with but I would suggest that you read this book first, if you haven’t already.

A Moth To The Flame by Debbie Sands

I knew Amy. Lots of people I grew up with could say that but did anyone know her struggles?

5/5 stars.
ebook, 162 pages.
Read from September 14 to 15, 2016.

I knew Amy. Not as well as I would have liked or for very long, but we grew up in the same town and had solid year together in the Studio Theatre class in our high school, the very one mentioned in this book. Her death hit the community and anyone that ever knew her hard. Perhaps this review is a little biased because of that connection but I am thankful that Debbie shared Amy’s story and her struggles.

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Amy as I remember her in 2003 – Studio Theatre – Foothills Composite High School -Okotoks, AB

Amy passed away in the summer of 2012. She was shot through a garage door with a bullet that never should have been shot and was not ever intended for her. She was 27 years old. Amy was eccentric, fun, independent, beautiful and confident. I’ll never forget some of fun times we had or the few inside jokes we created together. I remember envying her. However, few would have ever known the struggles that she dealt with and the problems it would cause in her adult life. Even more, few would have known about the struggles Amy’s family went through in trying to help her.

Amy had borderline personality disorder (BPD). A mental health condition that is characterized by overt and unstable emotions as well as abnormal behavior and relationships with others. Sufferers often have an unstable sense of self and extreme sense of abandonment that can often lead to dangerous behaviors.

Amy’s condition drove her to abuse drugs and mix with a crowd of people that ended up resulting her death. The book details the intimate struggles that her family had to endure while trying to deal with Amy. I cannot fathom the amount of pain and how trying it would have been trying to manage Amy. Her family loved her dearly but at the same time did not want to be enforcers to her behavior. They knew she was troubled but it wasn’t until after Amy’s death that they came to determine that she had BPD. The book spares no details and gives the deep down trauma of living with BPD and what it does to loved ones. While the book was heartbreaking to read, it is also immensely insightful.

I had the pleasure of working with Debbie on during a Dewdney theatre production of The Importance of Being Ernest around 2005. Debbie made a stellar Lady Bracknell and she never ever showed any signs of the potential turmoil that was effecting her private life. I am so glad that she wrote this book. Not only has she shed light for all that loved Amy but she is spreading awareness of about BPD. I hope that the writing process has been a healing one for her. No mother, or family for that matter, should ever have to endure what she went through. It was very brave of her to publish this book.

I would highly recommend this book for anyone with BPD or has a loved one with BPD. Or for those who have had mental illness effect them or someone that the have loved. And especially for anyone that loved or knew Amy.

 

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

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4/5 stars.
ebook, 272 pages.
Read from May 27 to 30, 2015.

This book has been on my to-read list since the beginning of my university days. I recall reading some of Plath’s poetry during this time but having known so little about her at the time and not having the maturity in regards to her situation, I never found the poems as potent as they were intended to be. Without getting into too much into literary theory, I will state that I do believe that with some pieces of literature it is important to know the history of the author and how their history can intentionally be placed into their work. I believe that Plath’s work fits for this circumstance.

For those that don’t know, Sylvia Plath was an American writer who was born in 1932. Her father died when she was just a girl, an event that would change Plath and affect her writing substantially in the future. Plath attended college and was a promising student with top marks. She was offered a guest editing position at a top women’s magazine but it was not what Plath hoped it would be and this is when her mental health issues started to show. She survived her first suicide attempt after overdosing on her mother’s sleeping pills and crawling into a hole outside. She was hospitalized and given psychiatric treatment which, at the time, included insulin shots and electric shock treatment. Plath seemed to make a decent recovery after 6 months in treatment and returned to college. It was here where she meets her future husband, Ted Hughes, who ends up becoming a famous and notable English writer.  During their marriage she gave birth to two children and had one miscarriage, an event that also presents itself in her writing. Plath was also in a car accident, which was likely another suicide attempt. Shortly after, Plath and Hughes separated after Plath discovered that Hughes was having an affair. After the separation is when Plath wrote some of her most important pieces, but sadly she committed her final act of suicide and died on February 11, 1963, just days after being prescribed anti-depressants. Plath died of carbon monoxide poisoning. She barricaded herself in the kitchen and placed her head inside the oven with the gas turned on.

Plath’s life was tumultuous and tragic and The Bell Jar is a semi-biographical story that reflects the beginning of Plath’s life and illness before she meets Hughes.

Esther Greenwood is a young, smart and ambitious woman who has just started the beginning, of what she is hoping to be a prominent and promising career in writing. She has been awarded the opportunity to intern at a popular women’s fashion magazine in New York, which is a dream come true for Esther. However, Esther slowly watches her ambitions drain away as an unstoppable depression begins to take over. As her ambition fades and the depression takes its toll, so does her once in a lifetime chance of making it in New York, in which, at this point Esther is so numb with depression she nearly doesn’t care. She almost marries, she is hospitalized and nearly dies. The ending does give some hope that perhaps there is still a chance for her.

The events Esther lives through are nearly identical to the ones Plath went through herself. Esther is pragmatic and brave. Esther wanted something more for herself so she is brutally honest about aspects of relationships and her refusal of a what would have appeared to be a perfect match for marriage. She is also honest with her depression, while not naming her condition, Esther describes perfectly what it feels like consumed by depression:

“The silence depressed me. It wasn’t the silence of silence. It was my own silence.”

“To the person in the bell jar, blank and stopped as a dead baby, the world itself is a bad dream.”

“…because wherever I sat—on the deck of a ship or at a street café in Paris or Bangkok—I would be sitting under the same glass bell jar, stewing in my own sour air.”

“I couldn’t see the point of getting up. I had nothing to look forward to.”

Even though it was written long before I was born, this book will always be timeless for its honesty with depression and mental health and particularly because it comes from the perspective of a woman. Even some of the social issues in this book are still relevant for women. Esther’s thinking on marriage was very forward for its day and age:

“So I began to think maybe it was true that when you were married and had children it was like being brainwashed, and afterward you went about as numb as a slave in a totalitarian state.”

“That’s one of the reasons I never wanted to get married. The last thing I wanted was infinite security and to be the place an arrow shoots off from. I wanted change and excitement and to shoot off in all directions myself, like the colored arrows from a Fourth of July rocket.”

I wonder if these were Plath’s own views and what changed her mind later in life to marry Hughes? There are many aspects in the book where Esther, despite protesting that she will never marry, still indicates that she wants it all: love, a family, but also her freedom. However she knows that she cannot have it all. Perhaps these are the same thoughts that brought Plath to succumb to her own marriage?

Plath’s short life feels like a story unfinished, which also contributes to her still present popularity. Feminists have taken her under their wing and are devoted to her prose and the continuation of her legacy. It makes me curious to what kind of woman Plath would be now and what she would have become. This book has made a lasting impression on me and is a hugely important book for the continuation and understanding of mental health issues.