The Dollanganger Series
Simon & Schuster
Published Year
Preceded by
Followed by

If There Be Thorns is narrated by two half-brothers, Jory and Bart Sheffield. Their mother, Cathy, is married to Christopher Sheffield.

The elder brother, Jory, is a handsome, talented young man who wants to follow his mother in her career in the ballet while the younger Bart is clumsy and accident-prone. Bart feels he is misunderstood by his parents and outshone by Jory.

Lonely, Bart befriends an elderly neighbour, who invites him over for cookies and encourages him to call her "Grandmother." Jory also visits the woman next door, and she reveals that she is actually his grandmother and tells him about times that she saw him as a small child in Virginia.

Jory is horrified, believes that the woman is insane and resolves to avoid her at all costs. The old woman and Bart, on the other hand, soon develop an affectionate friendship and the woman does her best to give Bart whatever he wants, provided that Bart promises to keep her gifts (and their relationship) a secret from his mother.

Jory is aware that Bart is making visits to the old woman next door, but decides to not tell his parents at first.

The butler of the old woman, John Amos, also seems to befriend Bart, but soon John Amos begins to fill Bart's mind with stories about the sinful nature of women, especially women who (like Bart's mother Cathy) flaunt their bodies on the stage.

John Amos reveals that the old woman is truly Bart's grandmother Corrine Foxworth. He also gives Bart a journal belonging to Bart's biological great-grandfather, Malcolm Foxworth, claiming that this journal will help Bart become as powerful and successful as that man. Bart is enveloped by the journal and begins to pretend that he is his great-grandfather, who hated women and was obsessed with their degradation.

Cathy, Chris, and Jory soon notice the change in Bart, but only Jory suspects that the changes are due to the mysterious woman next door. At the same time, Cathy is injured in a ballet accident and is told that she will never dance again.

While confined to a wheelchair, Cathy begins to write out the story of her life. Bart filches his mother's manuscript pages and is enraged to learn the truth about his parents: Cathy and Chris are brother and sister and his beloved "grandmother" locked them in an attic for years, feeding them poison to gain an inheritance.

When Bart falls ill, Jory tells Chris his suspicions about the old woman next door. Chris, who is secretly followed by Jory, confronts the old woman, who reveals herself to be Corrine, and begs for his forgiveness.

Chris refuses and warns her to stay away from the family. Cathy has also discovers the truth about the woman next door when Bart slips and says she gets him anything he wants and goes to confront her.

The old woman, who is indeed the mother of Cathy and Chris, expresses remorse for her crimes against them and begs them to forgive and love her again. Working on John Amos' orders, Bart, who now believes he is a vessel for his great-grandfather's vengeful spirit, helps to lock Cathy and her mother into the cellar of the house next door, where John Amos plans to starve them to death.

In the course of this, Bart realises how much he loves his mother and grandmother, despite their sins, and tells Chris where the women are. But before they can be reached, the house next door catches fire. Cathy is saved, but her mother dies of smoke inhalation, along with John Amos.

The epilogue, resumed with Cathy as narrator, describes Cathy's emotional forgiveness of her mother at the woman's funeral. Cathy and Chris, for the sake of their sons and adopted daughter, realise that they must never allow their secret relationship to be revealed.

Bart seems to have recovered from the worst of his madness, but still dwells on the power wielded by his great-grandfather, whose millions he now stands to inherit.

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