Lest you equate book smart with book snob, let me tell you it isn’t always all Steinbeck and Kerouac and Atwood and F. Scott Fitzgerald with me. When I read a book, what I really want is to hear a story.
And way down in the deepest days of being 15 or 16 was my attraction to things paranormal and occult. For all that I wanted to fit in, I also wanted to be special. What could be more special than having psychic powers? That’s where Lois Duncan books came in. She wrote about ordinary girls who took on seriously weird stuff. You wanted to know about witchcraft, ghosts, vampires, out-of-body experiences, psychic visions and all that with a bit of terror in the mix, Lois Duncan wrote novels about it.
Ooh, it’s fun to be scared. Especially when all that exciting mayhem and suspense is set in and around a high school, where nothing very special ever seemed to happen in real life. At least not to a girl like me, prowling the library shelves for the ones I hadn’t read yet.

Daughters of Eve
What can I say, the woman knew how to tell a good story with juicy material. Daughters of Eve was probably not her best book (its main theme is “feminists who go too far!”) but she still manages to get in elements of premonition and going up against an unknown force with only good on your side. The back cover copy reads “Sworn to secrecy. Bound by loyalty. It’s the high school’s most exclusive club – but now a twisted mind is leading it. Who will be the first victim?”

Between the girls who belong to Daughters of Eve, they’ve got every female problem covered – brothers who don’t do their fair share of housework and the fathers who enable them, girls getting knocked up and prevented from realizing their career dreams, principals and teachers who restrict female achievement at the science fair, girls sports getting the shaft, and the threat of “other women” to a marriage. The book was set in the heady days of 70s feminism; you just don’t get to hear phrases like “male chauvinist pig” anymore.
Duncan was really at her best when getting into seriously otherworldly, truly creepy situations, like having the sweet cousin who moves in seduce both your boyfriend and dad through witchcraft (Summer of Fear). I also liked Stranger With My Face in which a girl whose friends claim they see her doing out-of-character things finds out she has an evil twin who uses astral projection (out of body experiences) to take over her body and life! Of course, this is just the sort of fascinating thing parents don’t want the impressionable girls to read! Luckily, brave Lois Duncan didn’t cave in to fear or talk down to readers.

Now take V.C. Andrews. Most of my copies of her books have no covers, seriously cracked spines and pages falling out. Although not officially YA, her books were aimed squarely at my adolescent heart with their beautiful, tragic teenage heroines. I never did read Flowers In the Attic or the other books in that series, save the obligatory prequel novel that they always had to append to each series. Just in case you hadn’t already figured out why things were so fucked up for Heaven, or Ruby or Dawn, I suppose.
My Sweet Audrina was the one standalone book that V.C. Andrews wrote and I think it’s still one of the creepiest books I’ve ever read. I mean, just look at the cover of this thing. It’s so loved, it’s abused. Kind of like poor hapless Audrina herself.

Like all V.C. Andrews’s main characters, Audrina is trapped by a shadowy past and a controlling/charismatic/seductive father figure. A creep in a three-piece suit who tries to keep her from finding out where she left her innocence. Oh, there it is in the rocking chair. Forget finding out from her sister – she’s an evil slut. Forget mother – she’s trapped in her own vanity and soon dies off in childbirth anyways. A bitter aunt/substitute mother can only say get away from that dude, which is not helpful advice for a 10-year old. And so, the only one who can save her is – the boyfriend. He’s trusting, he’s protective and Dad scowls at him, the sister tries to seduce him, and Audrina still can’t figure out what happened to her that makes them all act so weird in the first place.

All those archteypes appear in Heaven, which was the beginning of the last series V.C. Andrews actually wrote. Heaven is a girl who is out of place among her white-trash hill billy family. Her mostly-absent Pa hates her, her brother Tom protects her, and she’s got a slutty sister who is jealous of her sweet boyfriend Logan. Unlike the rest of the family, which also includes elderly grandparents, sickly young’uns and a tough old boot of a stepmom, Heaven is into school and idolizes her teacher.
In a pattern that would be repeated in all the other series written and published under V.C Andrews name, Heaven finds out that she is not of the hills, but actually the heiress to a vast fortune.

Again, I had worn away the covers and bindings of all the books I had, but happened to find a copy of Dark Angel for $0.25 at a bowling alley just in the last week, which is why it appears intact here. And this is one of the ones with the little cutaway in the cover that opens to reveal a scary-ass family portrait inside. I had to have it! V.C. Andrews died before this book, the second in the Heaven series, was published and it contains a note to readers to tell us that a ghost writer will be writing new books in the series.
If it wasn’t literature before, the books got downright stupid and whoever wrote them loved creating one-note baddies like the omniescient matriarch Grandmother Cutler and her religious nut sister Emily in the “Dawn” books.

Always the same thing – poor girl with “special talents” and good looks discovers she’s actually rich. But the new rich family is full of “secrets” (ie: mom got knocked up and had you, girl!) and always, some horrific revelation like the boyfriend she had before is actually her half-brother. In a weird twist, the guy she thought was her brother from the poor family becomes her boyfriend. Ewww. Sooner or later, honey gets seduced by an older dude and knocked up too. Or there is a horrible rape scene involving the charismatic older guy who has a strained relationship with his rich wife. (Remember, the mother’s are always long gone, and all the guy has left is some nasty new wife to replace the saintly one.)
Even though there was so much to hate about that annoying Dawn character, I dutifully bought the whole sordid series. Then the next one came out, about a girl named Ruby from the bayou who discovers… oh forget this stuff. Same old same old.
Somebody must still be buying these, because they are still publishing new series under her name! Pulp, I can handle. Badly written, cliche-ridden, formulaic swill, no thank you. Even trashy stories ought to be well-told if we’re not meant to throw the book across the room in frustration.
Tell me a good one!