A few weeks back I spent the day with the kids at my mom’s place for some nostalgia. We did some thrift store shopping but I was there specifically to pick up some V.C. Andrews novels. Dawn was the only V.C. Andrews book in the entire store, thankfully the first in a series. And thus, I devoured the book and started my“Grown Ass V.C. Andrews Review” series. So let’s give Dawn the critical Grown-Ass treatment it merits:
IN HER FINE NEW VIRGINIA SCHOOL, DAWN LONGCHAMP FEELS HAPPY AND SAFE, BUT NOTHING IS WHAT IT SEEMS…
Now Dawn and her older brother Jimmy have a chance for a decent, respectable life, and Dawn’s secret precious hope to study singing can come true. Philip Cutler, the handsomest boy in school, sets Dawn’s heart on fire. She is deeply devoted to her brooding brother, but with Philip, she imagines a lovely dream of romance…
Then Dawn’s mother suddenly dies, and her entire world begins to crumble. After a terrible new shock, she is thrust into a different family and an evil web of unspoke sins. Her sweet innocence lost, humiliated and scorned, Dawn is desperate to find Jimmy again… and strip away the wicked lies that will change all their lives forever!
Dawn is the first book in the Cutler series. Published in 1990, it’s also the first in a series fully-penned by V.C. Andrews’ posthumous ghostwriter, Andrew Neiderman, after Andrews’ death in 1986).
Dawn was also the first V.C. Andrews novel to feature an opening letter from the Andrews family, formally stating that all subsequent novels were ghostwritten, inspired by Virginia’s “storytelling genius”.
We have no real understanding as to how much of Dawn was Andrews’ original creation, but her estate tells us that she had a massive collection of notes for 60+ novels, so I can assume most of it was from her mind. The prose is all Neiderman, though, and he does an okay job of it.
My Copy of Dawn
Right out the gate, I’m super bummed that my copy is a later printing, which doesn’t include the classic V.C Andrews keyhole cover, which is a signature part of the V.C. Andrews brand. No pretty foil details. No stepback family illustration on the back cover. If I can find a proper keyhole version of this book in future I’ll probably replace this one, but we’ll see.
The book itself is in decent shape. Some creases on the cover and some along the spine (WHY CAN’T YOU READ A BOOK WITHOUT CREASING THE SPINE, PAST READER(S)!). There are some stains on the bottom of the pages that leak down through the entire book. When you flip the pages, the bottom corner with the stains gives off a vague smell of cat piss. Fantastic.
I add these details because I think they’re important to used mass-market paperbacks. I used to hate them because they always came in such rough condition, but reading this one made me appreciate the “well-loved and well-read” aspect to them. That said, I like the idea of an individual book having its own little “history” if you will.
Except this book was obviously in a box full of books in a basement where a cat peed. Maybe more than once.
Dawn: The Grown-Ass V.C. Andrews Review
Seeing as this was one of the early books penned by the V.C. Andrews ghostwriter after her death, Dawn does fit in with the classic V.C. Andrews formula? Let’s dig in!
Innocent & Pretty, Yet Completely Naive Female Protagonist
Meet Dawn Longchamp. She’s a 14-year-old poor blonde girl with a father, mother and an older brother, Jimmy. Dawn doesn’t know a lot. She’s lonely because the family moves around often, on a count of Dawn’s father, Ormand, losing his job frequently, and the family having to move to a new and destitute location.
She shares a pull-out sofa with her brother and doesn’t know anything about sex. She likes to sing sometimes, though. And oh, such pretty blonde hair, unlike the rest of the family, whom all have dark brown hair.
On the scale of Innocent and Pretty and Completely Naive, Dawn fits the book pretty well. She even catches her brother watching her get dressed on multiple occasions and doesn’t really think it odd.
Dawn also cries on NUMEROUS occasions. Be it when her mom, dies or when the girls at school are mean to her or when her virtually in every single paragraph of the second half of the book, she’s down on her face, sobbing in tears until she can’t cry anymore. And yet, the next paragraph comes and the tears just keep on coming…
A Tragic Death
After giving birth, Dawn’s mother, Sally Jean, slowly (and stubbornly) dies of tuberculosis. While the mother’s in hospital, a security guard actually recognizes Dawn’s father. It’s not until after the family returns home sans Mommy that the police come and arrest Dawn’s dad for being a KIDNAPPER. Who did he kidnap? Why, little blonde-haired Dawn, of course!
Rags to Riches Plot
The Longchamps were poor losers, but it turns out that Dawn is actually a well-to-do Cutler (of Cutler Cove Hotel fame!), kidnapped shortly after birth by two lowly hotel workers who disappeared into the night.
After some insistence, the police (disregarding proper protocol and without providing any mental counselling–like if you hate cops this might just be the book for you, because they’re like real-life bad in this), lock up Dawn’s dad, send Jimmy and Dawn’s baby sister, Fern, into the foster system, and cart Dawn off (sans proper emotional counselling) to her true family abode, the Cutler Cove Hotel.
Vivid Gothic Setting
So the police drive Dawn to the hotel. The sandy beach can be seen in the distance, but the major part of every V.C Andrews setting is always the house. This one’s described as “an enormous three-story Wedgewoods mansion with milk-white shutters and a large wraparound porch”. There’s a spiral staircase, polished stone foundations, beautiful fountains, well-lit walkways and gazebos adorning the hotel grounds. And then the police pull around the back of the hotel. Dawn is taken in to meet her grandmother, the stern Grandmother Cutler, in a lavish back office.
Bent on hiding Dawn from public knowledge, Grandmother Cutler sends Dawn to live in some grubby plain maid’s room in the hotel, where she must work as a maid until she can somehow prove herself worthy of the Cutler family name.
The maid’s room is where much of the book’s second-half occurs. I didn’t really feel much of the hotel. At a couple of points, we get to check out Dawn’s birth-mother’s suite, which sounds like the ideal place for one to grossly exaggerate one’s mental breakdowns in full-face makeup, (80’s interior vibes ABOUND) but hey, that’s just my opinion.
Overall the setting is good, but for a V.C. Andrews setting I felt the resort left much to be desired. It wasn’t GOTH ENOUGH for me.
Beloved Doting Paternal Figure
One particular facet of all V.C. Andrews books are childish usage of parental references. Fathers are pretty much always referred to as DADDY, and in Dawn, we’re blessed with not one, but two dads!
In this case, “Daddy” is Dawn’s kidnapper father, Ormand, who isn’t so much doting as he is a drunkard who can’t keep a job. He’s introduced in the first chapter as dark and menacing, but as the opening of the novel unfolds, he seems like a decent dude. He does all the stuff dads are supposed to do and doesn’t come off as creepy like most V.C. Andrews dads do.
Dawn’s biological father, Randalph, is pretty much just an errand-boy for Grandmother Cutler. Dawn calls him “Father” and while he’s nice and accommodating, he’s definitely got some Sterling Archer-like vibes when conversing with his mother. So definitely not the standard daddy-daughter love fest that I’m accustomed to.
Hostile Maternal Figure (+ Bonus Mean Girl!)
Okay, so we’ve got Grandmother Cutler, who doesn’t even get a name, as the matronly evil woman. To start, she makes Dawn work as a chambermaid in the hotel to “train” her to be a proper “wealthy” person. She insists that Dawn be called her birth-name, “Eugenia” (who was Grandmother Cutler’s beloved younger sister), and forces Dawn to wear a Eugenia nametag.
When Dawn refuses, Grandmother Cutler locks Dawn in her room for a night until Dawn cries enough tears to woe to make one of the men in the family unlock the door for her.
Clara Sue is our Bonus Mean Girl!. She starts out being the girl at the private school. There’s some general mean girl antics, but once it’s revealed that Clara Sue is actually Dawn’s younger sister, the fake friendship is OFF.
Clara Sue is your standard mean girl who is mean because she’s rich, BUT she has one very significant weakness: her sweet tooth. Yep. On more than one occasion, Dawn stumbles upon Clara Sue eating chocolates and shit. You see, even though Dawn is a poor emotionally-traumatized idiot with no family and no name, she’s still pretty and skinny and THAT MAKES ALL THE DIFFERENCE, DOESN’T IT?!
To prove this point, there’s a scene where Grandmother Cutler allows Dawn to take all of Clara Sue’s cloths that don’t fit her anymore. Like I can’t, honestly.
I actually liked Dawn’s birth-mother, Laura Sue the best because she was just plain old soap opera crazy.
She just sat in her opulent suite eating breakfast in fancy robes and pearls and diamond rings and shit. AND full-face makeup. EVERYTHING was too much for her. Like she finds out her daughter grew up poor and she’s like, OH THEY WERE SO POOR, THE TRAGEDY!, and she has to take a whole week of solace in her room to get over the basic idea of it all.
It does not get more V.C. Andrews than this.
Okay, so this book is full of intriguing incest. As I’ve already mentioned, Dawn and her brother Jimmy sleep on the same pull-out sofa, which leads to some general awkwardness seeing that they’re both in some primetime adolescence. At first, Dawn has no attraction to Jimmy. She just loves him like a brother.
THEN, once the kids get free admission to the private school that Dawn’s father works as a janitor at, Dawn meets Philip Cutler, a dashing popular boy who likes to lead girls on so he can take them out to his private make-out spot so they can do more than just make out. Dawn stupidly falls under his spell, as Philip is your classic roll-your-eyes-over with hardcore romantic sap playa. Philip gets as far as second base with Dawn before his friends barge in on the lovin’.
THEN, of course, the twist takes place. Dawn’s sickened by the thought of falling for her brother. Philip, however, just can’t get over how beautiful she is and goes all Jaime Lannister for Dawn, right down to a pretty standard rape scene that’s kind of just thrown in near the end there for no reason. Just to give Dawn a bit more trauma, right?
Jimmy, not actually Dawn’s bro, becomes Dawn’s new love interest (for some reason after showing up at the beach resort). They end up nearly boning at one point, but then, of course, Clara Sue breaks up their no-so-sibling celebration, dammit.
Some Good Olde School Misogyny
There’s not a lot here, honestly. Most V.C. Andrews books lean heavily on girls/women being beautiful and innocent and doing their best not to lead men on. There’s a bit of that, mainly from the grandmother character. Even the parts where Philip just can’t get enough of his sister are conveyed more as him being the weirdo than Dawn being a filthy whore.
“Is something wrong? Oh, please, don’t tell me something’s wrong,” she pleaded, dropping her fork and pressing her palms to her bosom.
Like, for real, what the fuck is that? Numerous female characters pull off this maneuver to express shock in this book. It’s like the Home Alone face but you bring your hands over your tits like a hand bra? Please tell me, Andrew Neiderman. How do women work?
Some Real Bad Writing
Here’s a horrifying one when Philip and Dawn are getting hot and heavy. It takes place in a scene that reads as erotic, but then this line comes up, which can’t at all read as enticing to arachnophobes:
The tips of his fingers surrounded a button of my blouse. I felt it open and then felt his fingers against my skin, moving like a thick spider in and under my bra.
Here’s pretty redundant one where Dawn gets ambushed by Clara Sue and some mean girls who spray her with a stink bomb right before her big solo recital:
I cried until I had no more tears and my head and throat ached. I felt as if a heavy blanket of defeat had been thrown over me. It weighed far too much for me to simply throw it off. My shoulders shook with my sobs.
Here’s one where Dawn’s standing in the rain, rationalizing that she can’t bone Philip now because he’s her bro:
Good-bye to my first and what I would be my most romantic love, I thought. Good-bye to being swept off my feet and floting alongsude warm, soft white clouds. Our passionate kisses shattered and fell with the raindrops, and no one could tell which were my tears and which were the drops of rain.
And one last bit of melodrama, when Dawn talks herself into boning Jimmy, the boy who’s she’s known all her life to be her brother wasn’t actually her brother:
When we kissed, my body softened, and I thought how right it would be for Jimmy to be the one to have taken me from girlhood innocence into a woman’s world. I had always felt safe with him, no matter where we went or what we did, because I sensed how important it was for him that I be happy and secure. Tragedy and hardship had tied us together as brother and sister, and now it seemed only right, even our destiny, that romantic love bind us together.
That’s the melodrama that only a man pretending to write as a woman could write.
Fantastic Psychological Horror
So this is what I read V.C. Andrews for is that weird feeling of alienation and frustration and isolation. I love that the characters feel like cardboard soap opera cutouts. I like that they’re so intent to stay within their stereotypes that they never evolve or empathize with the protagonist’s trials. It’s an absolutely frustrating experience. As a reader, I can’t help but feel trapped in this alternate reality where nothing goes right and the B-characters never feel like real people.
Granted, I don’t think this “effect” was intentional on Andrews’ part, but every character interaction can feel so frustrating. I’m made to feel like a little girl who’s just trying to be good an impress people and no attempt I make at being “proper” ever succeeds. I’m trapped in this horrible place with horrible people and I really think that element of storytelling is what makes V.C. Andrews’ books so gripping.
Dawn: My Grown-Ass Final Thoughts
Okay, so formula aside, what do I really think about this book? Of course, it’s trashy literature. It’s not good. While the setting alone doesn’t live up to “V.C. Andrews” standards, it does hold well up to regular trash lit standards.
To be honest, I really did like Dawn as a summer read.
"DAWN" (Cutler Series #1)
- There's some legit psychological horror.
- Fun plot about being forced to conform to a different identity.
- Bonus mind-play incest!
- A RIDICULOUSLY crazy mother character that you will love to hate.
- Not what I could call a vivid V.C. Andrews setting.
- Female characters keep bringing their hands to their breasts to express shock for some reason.
- Garbage story resolution.