Okay, here we go. Full disclosure: I was fifteen years old when I first read this book. I have written (roleplayed) for Dawn Cutler, and I have always had a soft spot for the character. That said, I was utterly terrified to read this book. It harkens back to my teenage days. What if I hated it? What if I didn't like Dawn anymore? What if the book was trashy? This book began the Cutler family series, and with it, the "V.C. Andrews formula" (tentatively began in her Casteel series) continued: the protagonist, usually a talented and pretty girl, finds out the family she believes to be hers really isn't, and her entire world crumbles. In latter books, the formula grew tired and the ghost-writer for V.C. Andrews lost the earlier flair he had for staying true to her writing style and story-telling prowress. (I eventually stopped reading her books about 5 or 6 years ago.) But with Dawn, even this time around, I felt there was a little something special there.
Forced to work as a chamber maid in the Cutler's Cove hotel and live apart from her family, Dawn struggles to find even a single ally in the hotel and in her family. Everywhere she turns, someone, it seems, is pushing her away, or denying their relationship to her, for their own reasons. Each of them has a reason for resenting her return to them: her sister, Clara Sue feels she has always lived in the shadows of the sister who was kidnapped, the sister she was born to replace. Philip cannot accept that he and Dawn are related and cannot be together. Dawn reminds Laura Sue of her past transgressions. Grandmother Cutler sees Dawn as a wild, untamed threat. Dawn feels alone and betrayed without her brother and her sister. She cannot understand why her Longchamp parents took her, and as she reaches out to unravel the mystery of her kidnapping, her relatives push her away lest she come too close to the truth several of them have spent years trying to hide.
I liked a lot about this book. I liked that Dawn stuck to her beliefs and refused to let her grandmother make her change her name (to the one the Cutler's had originally given her.) I liked that she was not afraid to believe in something good. Yes, she was (and is even into later books) too sheltered and naive but she was a very interesting foil to her cruel sister. I liked several of the supporting characters, especially Jimmy. I loved his temper and his strength, and the he exhibited a wisdom a little beyond his years.
What I didn't like: Dawn's Cutler family was far too eager to ignore anything unpleasant. Laura Sue, who claims to be too nervous and fragile to deal with life, is really hiding. Randolph buries himself in his "work" in the hotel so as not to take on a parental role. Philip tries to pretend nothing has changed between himself and Dawn. (Various family members who should be aware of this are not, allowing the problem to continue.) Only Lillian (Grandmother Cutler) has backbone. At one point a supporting character remarks that it's strange that Lillian isn't more fond of Dawn, since "you're the grandchild she would want the most." The reason why is revealed in the end, and explains the reactions of the various family members to Dawn, as well as setting the stage for the sequel.
I was also not fond of the lack of transition from Dawn and Philip as a couple, to Dawn and Philip as siblings. As I mentioned above, it is clear immediately that Philip is having trouble making the leap so to speak, while Dawn very quickly adjusts. She makes several attempts to convince Philip to let go of his romantic interest in her, but is unable to persuade him. This was the point I felt she should have sought out advice or help from someone in the family, her grandmother even. And her transition from thinking of Jimmy as a brother, to beginning to think of him as a love interest is hurried, and I felt, not properly developed.
All in all I did like this book, and tried to read it without letting my fifteen year old self color my thoughts. I am going to continue my series re-read (my memory is spotty of the rest of the books) but I will admit that this series is somewhat dated, and at times, teeters on a little ridiculous. But it is also good fun.