Release date: February 1, 2022 I was given an Advanced Readers Copy of The Woman Behind the Attic from NetGalley and Gallery Books in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.
“Best known for her internationally, multi-million-copy bestselling novel Flowers in the Attic, Cleo Virginia Andrews lived a fascinating life. Born to modest means, she came of age in the American South during the Great Depression and faced a series of increasingly challenging health issues. Yet, once she rose to international literary fame, she prided herself on her intense privacy.
Now, The Woman Beyond the Attic aims to connect her personal life with the public novels for which she was famous. Based on Virginia’s own letters, and interviews with her dearest family members, her long-term ghostwriter Andrew Neiderman tells Virginia’s full story for the first time.
The Woman Beyond the Attic is perfect for V.C. Andrews fans who pick up every new novel or for fans hoping to return to the favorite novelist of their adolescence. Eye-opening and intimate, The Woman Beyond the Attic is for anyone hoping to learn more about the enigmatic woman behind one of the most important novels of the 20th century.”
Do you remember VC Andrews books, because I sure do? They were like a gateway drug, books that tackled all sorts of things that hadn’t been tackled in kids books before. But they weren’t really kids books. Yet they weren’t adult books, either. VC Andrews sort of started the whole YA category of books. And they defied genre placement as well. Her books weren’t really horror books, they were more than coming-of-age stories, and they dealt with some pretty grown up topics like incest.
About the time I was reading Andrews’ books, she died, but I don’t remember hearing about it. From time to time I’d see a lot more books written by her, but by then I figured they were ghostwritten and I was right. More than 30 books were released under VC Andrews name after her death, and Andrew Neiderman was that ghostwriter. He decided to tackle the story of Andrews’ life and The Woman Beyond the Attic (Amazon) is the result.
I have to say, I usually sneak a peak at Goodreads or NetGalley reviews to compare notes, and I was surprised at the low ratings for this book. I thought it was very interesting, as I literally knew nothing about Virginia Andrews or her life. She was fiercely protective of her privacy, and when she did reveal something to an interviewer, she often obfuscated or outright lied. However, Neiderman had access to relatives who knew Andrews well, and more importantly, her papers to sort out the truth. The book is sprinkled liberally with her notes and letters, as well as excerpts from her popular works.
What most of the general public didn’t know is that Andrews was disabled by an arthritic condition and bone spurs. An attempt to fix the problem when she was a teenager made things worse, and left her confined to crutches or a wheel chair the rest of her life. And she had a very controlling mother who treated her like her invalidism meant she couldn’t use her brain, either.
Virginia Andrews was a child prodigy when it came to art, and in other school work, she skipped grades several times. She was, in a word, brilliant. She could do anything she set her mind to. With the death of her father when she was still young, and a mother who didn’t work or even drive a vehicle, it was up to Virginia to supplement her dad’s pension and social security payments. So she painted and designed and sewed clothes. All the while her mother hovered over her.
Andrews spent years living with relatives or moving all over the country with her mother, scratching out a living. It wasn’t until the early 1970’s that she started writing novels. Nine novels were rejected before Flowers in the Attic ($1.99 on Kindle right now!) gained some interest. And the rest, they say, is history. The book was a blockbuster hit, and sequels soon followed, plus other books like My Sweet Audrina (Amazon) and Heaven (Amazon) and Dark Angel (Amazon). She even wrote a prequel to the Flowers books, the demand was so great. Andrews literally changed the face of publishing with her stories.
Because of Andrews’ secrecy, not even family members knew exactly when Virginia found out about the cancer that would ultimately kill her. Some date it as early as 1983, others say it happened quickly. Regardless, Virginia Andrews died in 1986 while Flowers in the Attic the movie was in production.
A bonus to The Woman Beyond the Attic is that a previously unpublished first draft of a novel called The Obsessed is included with the book (the first eight chapters, anyway), and some other writings of Andrews. I won’t tell you much about the plot; you’ll just have to pick up the book yourself to find out more!
What started out as one woman’s writing that explores the human psyche and issues previously not discussed in polite company has turned into an industry of over 30 ghostwritten books and several Lifetime Television movies. New generations are discovering the original books every day, and for that, I am happy Virginia Andrews legacy lives on.
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