Yesterday, The Toast dedicated its content to all things V.C. Andrews, the author who gave us such wildly inappropriate classics as Flowers In the Attic, a book in which a brother and sister sleep together, a mother feeds her children arsenic-laced donuts, and a grandmother pours hot tar all over her granddaughter's hair while she sleeps (more on Flowers In the Attic and V.C. Andrews later). The thing about that book, and all V.C. Andrews books, is not just that it had incredibly creepy incestuous and homicidal content, but that it was marketed to young adult audiences. Which, if you were any kind of a bookish, nerdy kid who used to leave the library with as many books as you were allowed to check out at a time (10 at my branch), means you read it at about age 11 and it left a permanent mark on your mind, warping your view of the world and changing how you view powdered donuts for the rest of your life.
But are there any other books that are marketed to young reading audiences that will do strange things to developing minds? Of course there are! And I've gathered up a bunch of them here. I do want to preface this list by saying that just because I think these books are perhaps inappropriate for adolescents, it doesn't mean that I think they should be banned or anything like that. After all, if I could handle them, any of today's kids should be able to handle them just fine. And I am, when it comes right down to it, in favor of kids reading things that are confusing and disturbing because that's how they learn about our confusing and disturbing world. Or at least, that's how I learned. And I turned out juusssst fine. Just fine.
Flowers In the Attic, V.C. Andrews
This is the book that inspired this post and this is the classic example of a novel that seems like it will maybe just be a scary read for kids, but is actually one of the most brilliantly twisted sagas of incest and murder and what doctors are like when they're children that I've ever read. Things that happen in this book include a grandmother starving her grandchildren so that they are forced to eat raw mice and drink their sibling's blood in order to stay alive, frequent mentions of "budding breasts" which develop in the shape of various fruits (strawberries and apples, to name just two), and teenage siblings taking baths together and washing each other's hair. Plus, there's a description of a swan-shaped bed whose magnificence still leaves me looking at my current bed frame with not a little bit of contempt.
Whisper of Death, Christopher Pike
I read this book when I was either nine- or ten-years-old. Immediately after finishing it, I threw it in the garbage because it was so horrifying and so disturbing that I didn't think anyone else should ever be exposed to it. It was, unfortunately, a library book, and so I felt a little guilty at the fine my dad had to pay. But not too guilty, because the book had freaked me out just that much. This is a rough plot summary: a teenage girl decides to get an abortion, she changes her mind and returns to her small hometown only to find that everyone is gone except for three of her friends and her boyfriend. She watches them die one by one, each death more horrible than the last (one guy walks along the edge of a razor thin wall, slips and IS CUT IN HALF). Finally, the girl realizes that she will always have to relive these horrible deaths unless she goes and gets the abortion. So she does. Then she dies. There's also a witch. As you can maybe tell, this book is not really for a nine-year-old. And its message is vaguely anti-abortion. And anti-witch. Definitely inappropriate for kids.
Gerald's Game, Stephen King
So I was a big Stephen King fan when I was in about sixth and seventh grade. It started when I read Carrie and continued through reading Misery and Dolores Claiborne, It and the novella Apt Pupil. There's definitely an argument to be made that none of those books are appropriate for a kid who can still show how old she is by holding up the fingers on her hands, but none of those disturbed me in the way Gerald's Game did. And it's really for one simple reason, which you might be able to guess from looking at that image above of the cover of the book. I'm talking, of course, about the handcuffs. This book centers around a middle-aged couple who are out in a cabin in the woods, engaging in a little bondage. This is horrifying to a kid because it is impossible to read this book and not wonder if your parents also use handcuffs when they have sex. Aahhh!!! That is a permanently damaging thought that will lead to YEARS of therapy. Do not ever let a child read this book.
On the Edge (Sweet Valley High), Francine Pascal
Of all these books, probably this one is the least offensive in the sense that there isn't any explicit sex or violence contained within its pages. Alternately, you could also say that it's the most offensive because of the fact that a character—Regina Morrow, who was formerly deaf and kind and beautiful—dies of a heart attack after doing two lines of cocaine. I mean. What. That is so wrong and gives kids a completely inaccurate idea of what doing two lines of cocaine will do to you. This book is inappropriate because it goes against science and common sense. Also, it's like one of those annoying people you knew in high school who were convinced that if they ever did acid they'd think they were Superman and jump off a roof. Live a little. God. This book is a travesty.
My Sweet Audrina, V.C. Andrews
So, despite already referencing one V.C. Andrews book (and really, this list could have just been all V.C. Andrews, all the time) I had to include My Sweet Audrina because while all of Andrews's work revolves around themes of incest, deceit, secret babies (classic, right?) many of her series bear a striking similarity to each other; Audrina, though, stands alone. Unique for Andrews because it was a one-off and not part of a larger series, Audrina is one of the best and creepiest books ever, but maybe not appropriate for the YA section of a library because it involves a nine-year-old whose family convinces her that she's her own dead sister because she was gang-raped after being set up by her father's illegitimate daughter. I know! Crazy. Other disturbing details in the book include a lot of talk of "swollen breast buds" and Audrina's father's really gross, thick toenails. I haven't read this book in a long time, though I am tempted to do it again, if only because I admire the fact that so many of the characters' names are Nabokovian (Audrina Whitefern Adare, Vera, Arden, etc), but I still think that maybe this book should be filed in some other section than Young Adult. Librarians, man, they must be a pretty kinky bunch.
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