My Sweet Audrina by V.C. Andrews | Rating: ★★★★☆ (4.5)
"There were shadows in the corners and whispers on the stairs and time was irrelevant as honesty."
In preparation of Lifetime's adaptation of this very book, I've decided to revisit the very first book I'd ever read that disturbed and haunted me in my early teen years. V.C. Andrews is known for her enthralling works of twisted fiction--family sagas twinged with great descriptions and horror, betrayal and rags to riches. All the trigger warnings are necessary for her novels and they certainly aren't for every one. Our biggest trigger would be sexual violence.
Everything about V.C. Andrews and her original catalog is filled with twists, turns and great sums of controversy. For years, her novels have dominated their genre and gone past the decades that have come and gone. This is due primarily to her captivating and disturbing tale of Flowers in the Attic and the novels that followed in the Dollanganger Series. I guarantee you that a good portion of us have all read at least one book by her and loved or hated it due to its content. Andrews isn't for the weak of heart and while she wasn't the greatest author to exist from her generation, or any that have since passed, you've gotta give it to her for standing the test of time.
My Sweet Audrina is one of the most frightening, heartbreaking and twisty turny stories I've ever had the privilege (or misfortune, at times) of reading.
In my eyes, it defeats and dethrones Flowers in the Attic for the most fucked up novel in V.C. Andrews' complete works and there are many others who agree with me on the matter. My Sweet Audrina follows the same formula of Gothic-horror that Andrews' other novels follow and leaves readers chilled to the bone and completely caught off guard. I read it for the first time when I was only just a year into being a teen and even well over a decade later, it's haunted me from time to time and I clearly recall many of the moments from within.
Rereading it for the first time in years came with the same chills and frights as it did before. There's something incredibly fucked up physiologically about My Sweet Audrina and even now it still messes me up. I feel as though each time I revisit Audrina Adare and her hole-filled memories, I find something new to hurt over or observe something I didn't before. Needless to say, it's a frightening read each and every time I look into it.
Our story opens up with Audrina Adare, aged seven. Audrina has spent years in isolation and lacks the memories that normal people do. It isn't all that unusual for her to forget her age or something that occurred last year. Immediately, readers feel sympathetic over the young girls patchy mind and grow even more concerned as we discover the story of the First and Best Audrina. Audrina tells us through the narration that she had an older sister, who died nine years before she was born, who was killed in the woods by her home.
Her family, and the home of Whitefern, hasn't been the same since then. And our poor girl not only has to live with the knowledge that her namesake was supposedly better than her in every way, she suffers abuse at the hands of her older, despicable cousin Vera and her father as he forces her to rock in a chair and "absorb Audrina-1's gifts"--yuck.
Don't even get me started on how poorly Audrina's aunt treats her for a good chunk of the novel and of course the days her aunt and mother have Mercy Marie over. Seriously?
Needless to say, Audrina is very, very messed up and because of all these facts and her isolation, she is far from normal. But she longs for normalcy and for her memories and to be able to just be herself. In the years we know her, she struggles with tricky memories of the night Audrina-1 died and watch as she grows up and adjusts to life outside of Whitefern when she is able to attend school and piano lessons.
Gradually, Audrina grows into her own and befriends Arden Lowe--a boy that lives nearby and is only a little bit older than her, and his mother Billie. We watch as Audrina is tortured emotionally by the manipulative Vera and cry for her when her mother dies after giving birth to a sister, Sylvia.
Years and years pass in our timeline, and more twists and turns come around. Sometimes we as readers get confused at the pace in which time passes for Audrina. We watch as Audrina goes through the motions of school, grows up further, Vera leaves (for NYC, with Audrina's gross piano teacher who would rather be with Audrina than Vera), Sylvia comes home (and isn't like anyone else her age, due to complications with her birth), her aunts mysterious death and so much more. It's fast paced and the kinds of twists you'd expect only from soap operas and V.C. Andrews.
In so man ways, our sympathy grows for Audrina as she learns to care for her sister and becomes almost like a mother to the poor girl; the way her father grows to control nearly everything once more. We see her grow closer and romantically entangled with Arden, leading up to their marriage and the complications that arise during that time.
I think that Arden, as a whole, is incredibly fucked up and Audrina--like many things in her life--deserves so much more than him. Audrina, because of her problems and upbringing, is very childlike in her knowledge of sex and doesn't find herself with a desire to sleep with him.
She gets high anxiety when it comes to it, and instead of respecting Audrina and her inability to give herself to him, he all but forces himself on her during their honeymoon and she fakes pleasure on so many occasions. It's so cringe worthy and disgusting and it's even more gross discovering how much Arden "loves" Audrina, but how willing he is to have an affair when it comes to her because she doesn't "love him in the way he loves her"--ugh. Arden Lowe is such a pain in my ass and I just wish he would have gotten pushed down the stairs or something.
As Audrina and Arden try and work on their marriage, and struggle with the return of Vera (who is just as gross as ever and probably the first person that Arden had sex with, pre-Audrina) the loss of Arden's mother devastates the two of them. Things don't get better for a while and Audrina has her "sexual awakening" not long after she discovers his affair with Vera and the two have their first huge breakthrough in her own sex life. Together, they decide to start fresh--only to be derailed when Audrina is suddenly caught between life and death and is in a coma.
Good ole Arden decides that while his wife is in a coma, he should resume his affair with Vera and Vera brings up the plan that they should pull the plug and run off together. Vera, of course, being the piece of work she is, has had this entire plan up in the air for some time and is single handedly responsible for Audrina's condition. Because of course she did. After years and years of jealousy towards Audrina, Vera is nearly able to take over her cousin/half-sister's life until...
Audrina wakes from her coma and struggles for her life. But is our girl able to move on from all that has happened to her and her family--or will she be able to leave Whitefern for good?
There's so many twists that come before and after, and like most things it comes in threes. One, Arden was Audrina-1's friend and there on her ninth birthday--he saw her as she was gang raped, she pleaded for help but he was a coward and walked away as quickly as possible.
Two, Audrina-1 never existed--it was all our Audrina. Her family lied to her for years and after some attempts at treatment, the memory was blocked out, and in truth it explains everything about Audrina.
It explains Arden's infatuation and guilt. It explains why her memory is so patchy. It explains why she has anxiety when it comes to sex and why she was isolated for so long.
Our third and final twist is that Vera may have very well set up the entire thing.
Thankfully for us, there is one more person who is to die on the staircase of doom: Vera! Good grief, I've never been so happy to see a character die as much as I was with her. This isn't to say that Vera isn't a good character to read about--there's so much darkness to her that it makes reading her frightening and fascinating. But you can't deny that she deserved her fate. I can't help but wonder what she would have been like if Audrina's family embraced her a bit more warmly, but at the same time I can't help but to think that she was just a bad seed in general.
But even as that unfolds, and we wonder if it was Vera or Sylvia who killed Billie, our story is far from done. Audrina can't help but resent her father and Arden for all that they did, for all that they kept from her, and plans to leave Whitefern for good and start fresh elsewhere with her little sister, Sylvia. Just as we think she is finally free of it all, something stops her and keeps her there--and the story ends with her running back to her abusive father and her trash husband and Whitefern.
Because that totally makes sense. Scoffs. My Sweet Audrina is full of so much drama and horror and fucked up family problems that I can't help but to love it, but the ending is something that makes me cringe and is ultimately what gave it a lesser rating than I'd planned. V.C. Andrews really knew how to weave plots together and break your heart before tossing you on your ass and I really and truly appreciate that.
This is her best work and always will be.