This seems to be a book that everyone in a certain age bracket has read. A lot of people have read it, don’t get me wrong, but it seems that every woman over 50 I’ve talked to remembers reading it close to when it came out. It was a big deal. It has multiple movie adaptations. And I can’t really see why. Maybe it’s for the nostalgia. While shelved in the adult section now, it was kind of a YA hit when it came out, or so it seems. Maybe the evolution of YA and of our culture in general changes the perspective a bit. It’s a story of how children and siblings can survive and endure hardship, but it’s also about the awful and depraved lengths people will go to for money.
The basic story is as follows: the father of a family of four dies suddenly in a car crash. The stay-at-home mom realizes that she can’t keep the family afloat on her own (especially considering they borrowed against the future and are in debt) and so she begs her mother to go home to her childhood estate. Grandmother agrees on the condition that the children stay hidden until Grandfather either dies or accepts their existence, whichever comes first, with the former being most likely. So the four kids, 4-year old twins Carrie and Cory, 12-year-old Cathy, and 14-year-old Chris live in an upstairs ensuite room with attic access, with only Grandma and their mother knowing of their existence. They are to stay hidden without letting the staff know of their presence. We find out why the kids are hidden – Grandfather did not approve of his daughter’s marriage (for a pretty good reason) and wrote her out of his will. So the kids stay hidden while mom tries to win her way back into his good graces and his will. The kids are constantly told that Grandfather is on his deathbed, but always manages to make a comeback. The kids are told again and again that this is temporary, but the time goes on and on. (I’m trying not to give too many spoilers here!)
The treatment of these children is horrible. The Grandmother is a religious fanatic and is mentally and physically abusive toward the children. The mother is selfish and childish and naive. She only sees what she wants to see, and she doesn’t want to see the suffering of her children, so she doesn’t. She only thinks of herself and how she feels. Buying gifts for her children make her feel good, and for a while the children love her more for them. But the older siblings see that she is trying to buy their love, and it stops being effective. As a reader, you catch on very early that the mother is making promises she never intends on keeping to her children. She says she’s saving money for a house for them, but then spends wildly on gifts for them and jewelry for herself. She says she’s going to secretary classes, but complains that they’re hard and we know she stops them long before she admits to the children. She’s enjoying the wealthy lifestyle she grew up with, and that becomes more important than her children. She was raised to be a trophy wife, not a trophy mother. If she had married elsewhere with her father’s approval, her children would probably have been raised by nannies.
And this isn’t even really the focus of the book. It focuses on the children and how they cope with growing up in this forced isolation. There are sweet moments, but then there are some not-so-sweet moments. More of the latter than the former. Wikipedia says it’s a Gothic novel, although I always associate that term with Regency-era and castles and things, although I suppose that isn’t accurate. But there are a lot of elements in common. Having a tv in a Gothic novel seems disjointed, though!
This fulfills the CBR11 Bingo square of “Banned Books.” I feel like I read this because I had to, not because I wanted to. It felt like an assignment, or like I book I was supposed to read for something (which it was!) Would I recommend it? Not really, unless you’re curious about the pop-culture references to it. And judging by the Wikipedia articles, the rest of the series gets weird.