A little while ago I posted about my Romance phase, a time when I was reading a book every two days, Harlequin, Silouette, everything I could get my hands on. It was during this time I latched onto Jessica and Elizabeth, the Wakefield Twins of Sweet Valley fame. Jessica and Liz are the sixteen year old, blond, blue-eyed Californians at the centre of Francine Pascal’s Sweet Valley High series, a teen soap opera in the basest of terms. Now that I think back on that time, it’s not surprising that I became hooked on the twin’s story, as I was also hooked on the daytime TV soaps (Guiding Light, As the World Turns, Another World).
In typical twin fashion, Liz is the studious good girl and Jessica is the good times- bad girl. Liz is always getting Jess out of trouble as she flits from boy to boy determined to maintain her popularity. Of course I related to Liz, studious good girl who lives vicariously through her sister (in my case it was my social butterfly brother). There was the hot older brother (tall, dark and handsome of course), the mousy best friend (Enid), the rich bitch (Lila) and the sporty faithful boyfriend (Todd) going through teen angst together. So much fun.
When I started the series, I had no idea what I was in for. I bought every one that came out and devoured them the same day, but it wasn’t long before the pace of release entered what I like to call The James Patterson realm; every time I turned around there was another one. They were breeding at an alarming rate and establishing new species (aka series) as they went.
Soon there was Sweet Valley Senior Year, Sweet Valley Kids, Sweet Valley Twins, Sweet Valley Junior Year not to mention Thrillers and Special Editions. I couldn’t understand how Pascal managed to churn out so many books so quickly. Little did I know she was another Caroline Keene. Just as the Nancy Drew “author” was really a series of ghostwriters, so was Francine Pascal. I think she conceived the original ideas then turned them over to an army of writers. I couldn’t keep up and at around book 50 threw in the towel. I did keep buying the thrillers and special editions but even those got to be too much. For a while I followed Sweet Valley University because I wanted to see what they were up to as adults but lost interest around the same time I lost interest in the main series
Apparently there are a couple of books that are set when the twins are out of school (Sweet Valley Confidential and The Sweet Life) but I haven’t read them. Oh, and manga versions of course! I had no idea that the series kept going for 20 years, finally ending with a total of 603 books. (I’m not going near the four season TV show!)
Unlike most of my childhood book loves, I have never reread any of the Sweet Valley books. Might be interesting to see how well the series has held up over time. Even more interesting to see how my cynical self would find them now. Seems others had the same thought. There are many blogs out there recapping/rereading/reviewing the series. You really must check out the fantastically funny Snark Valley, and MentalFloss’ list of the most crazy plotlines, all of which happened after I stopped reading and prove that I made a good decision.
Still a big chunk of my teen years and very representative, in my humble opinion, of the American 80’s “ideal”.
So, any favourite memories of the Sweet Valley books? Favourite characters or plotlines? Who did you identify with? Leave a comment and tell me who was your guilty crush and I may just tell you mine J