My Sweet Audrina snatches us into its web o’crazy right from the word go. This is another big thing with VCA books–the first 10 or so pages in the first book in a series are straight exposition. “My name is X, I live in C, my mother died of cholera, my father ran away, my sister is named D and she was bitten by a rattlesnake, my brother is hot and just broke his arm…”, you get a nice overview of the first 15 years of a heroine’s life.
Audrina Adare, when we meet her, is seven years old. She lives in a big, old, rambling house in the woods, full of antiques and stained glass. Our Audrina chants little rhymes to protect herself from the colors and the wind chimes, which…oh sweetie. She’s a mess. Audrina also has no concept of time. She takes a nap at 4 pm on Monday, and wakes up at 5 am on Wednesday. She gets her sweaters out for fall and her daddy tells her the next day that it’s the depths of December. She’s pretty sure that she’s seven years old, but has no memory of being any other age. All of the clocks in the house are set to different times, and she’s not allowed to watch her aunt’s television, so AAA’s whole world is the house. And she lives in this world with the following horrible people:
Her mother: Lucietta Lana “Lucky” Whitefern Adare, who also has the aforementioned witchy hair, which, I should correct my earlier mistake, is: “Flaxen blonde, with gold, auburn, bright red, chestnut brown, copper and even some white.” Lucky was going to be a concert pianist, but gave it all up for Audrina’s father. She plays the piano at parties, which always leads to her husband getting on her case about flirting or showing off. The house is lit (except for the kitchen), but candles and gaslights, ostensibly because Lucky thinks she looks the best in that lighting. She spends her days sprawled on a chaise lounge, reading romance novels and eating bonbons. In a negligee. For reals, y’all. Her only contribution to the household is to cook.
Her father: Damian Jonathan Adare, who is 6’5, has black hair and black eyes (“slick as oil, scary and wonderful, especially when they glittered”, Not healthy, Audrina.) has nasty toenails, and is referred to as a “dandy” and a “fop” by his wife. He’s a stockbroker, obsessed with the Civil War (he’s a “Southerner by choice), and is an overall bastard.
Her aunt: Ellsbeth “Ellie” Whitefern, who is Lucky’s older sister. She was once a teacher, but lost her job due to a tendency to slap her students. Ellie had her heart broken once but good, and since then has become a miserable shrew, who likes to give her niece advice like the following:
“The day any man understands any woman will be the day the world comes to an end. Men are hateful, contrary creatures who say they want goddesses to put on pedestals. Once they have them up there, they rip off the halo, tear off the gown, slice off the wings so they can’t fly and then kick the pedestal away so the woman falls at his feet and he can scream as he kicks her, tramp!–or worse.” ………..damn.
Aunt Ellsbeth needs an editor and an understanding of the Oxford comma, as well as therapy. Ellie lives for her television, and does the housework since she can’t cook. On Tuesday afternoons, Lucky and Ellie hold teatimes, which are when “Aunt Mercy Marie” comes to visit. Aunt Mercy Marie disappeared on a mission to Africa years before, though, so her visits consist of Lucky and Ellie, in their best clothes, SPEAKING THROUGH A PHOTO OF AUNTIE, USING SPECIAL VOICES, TO AIR THEIR GRIEVANCES AT EACH OTHER. In FRONT of their respective daughters.
I really can’t get into this any more right now for the sake of my brain, so suffice to say that within the first 20 pages, we’ve seen one of these tea times, and it ain’t pretty. Ellie calls Lucky a whore, Lucky calls Ellie a dried up old hag, it’s like the Midnight Margaritas scene in Practical Magic, only weekly.
The final member of Audrina’s household is her cousin Vera, who is Aunt Ellsbeth’s illegitimate daughter. Vera has black eyes and apricot hair, which….yeah.
Lucky and Damian pass Vera off as their own in polite society, which must be quite a feat, given that we’re also told that Aunt Ellie showed up at their door with Vera already a year old and that seems like a little much to cover up. Vera is older than Audrina, though Audrina’s never quite sure how much older. Vera claims to be 12, 16, or 20 on various days. Vera is a nasty little thing, who delights in tormenting Audrina. Vera also breaks her bones whenever she falls or trips or brushes against a sofa. She breaks her leg early on, after trying to force Audrina to give up her paper dolls. In a whisper of foreshadowing, Audrina has only female paper dolls, Vera asks her for the male ones, but there aren’t any. Due to this break, one of Vera’s legs will be shorter than the other.
Ah well. This motley crew lives in the woods outside of the village of Whitefern, Virginia. The village is named for Lucky and Ellie’s family, but we’re told that the villagers dislike them now (which might have something to do with Damian’s habit of referring to the villagers as “serfs” and the family’s house as a “castle”. Maybe.) The only thing that’s really left to tell you about the beginning of this book is that there is one more member of the Whitefern/Adare household: The First Audrina. AKA The Best, Most Perfect Audrina.
See, Our Audrina had an older sister, with her same name and hair, who died (at age 9) nine years to the day that Audrina 2 was born. The First (etc etc) Audrina died under mysterious circumstances on her birthday (yes, the same as her little sister’s), and was found dead under a golden raintree. Every Sunday, the family puts flowers on her grave, and the goal of Damian’s life is to turn Our Audrina into the First Audrina. He claims that the First had “special gifts” and that all Audrina needs to do is become an “empty pitcher” that he can then “fill with [her] gifts”. See what I meant about unhealthy?
So that’s where we are now. GOD, I’m sorry about all of this exposition, but there was no way around it. Plot starts after this, I swear it. Now off with you, to try and get the “filling the empty pitcher” imagery out of your mind.