For those who never read any of the Sweet Valley books, here is an overview: gorgeous identical twin sisters grow up in California. They may look the same but by jimminy their personalities couldn’t be more different. Elizabeth, four minutes older, is serious and sensible and wants to be a writer. The younger, Jessica, is the more shallow, cheerleadery type who is forever stealing her sister’s stuff (clothes, boys, etc).
I have been trying to pinpoint exactly when I read them, and I think I’ve narrowed it down to about Primary 5 for the Sweet Valley Twins and Primary 6 for Sweet Valley High – so around the age of 9 or 10. I used to take them out of the library and I think I read most of the things, although I never owned one. Till now! Well, till July, when my mum got me a copy of Ten Years On: Sweet Valley Confidential for my birthday – a look at where the twins are a decade after the high school series ends. Even though there were all kinds of books about what happened after that, including Sweet Valley University and a series where Elizabeth goes to live in England for a while. I think they jumped the shark with SVU – I don’t remember reading many of those ones.
Anyway, “Haven’t you ever wondered what happened when Elizabeth and Jessica grew up?” the tagline asks.
I won’t lie, it hasn’t kept me up at night. Although now I look back on those books I have a nagging sensation that Elizabeth Wakefield might have inspired 10 year old me to consider journalism as a career. I did have a lot of affection for her. In fact my sister and I occasionally used to make cassette tapes for my gran, where we read her stories and played her our favourite songs, and she definitely got at least one chapter of Sweet Valley read out by me in a dubious American accent. I realise there is probably a special circle of hell reserved.
Still, with the book in my possession I couldn’t not read all the juicy gossip.
Unfortunately it’s not all that juicy, it’s more just predictable. The writing is pretty diabolical, although in fairness that was probably the case back in the day – I wasn’t much of a literary critic at ten, I just read everything. But basically anyone who read the series will be able to tell exactly what happens from the blurb on the back. The twins aren’t talking, right, because Jessica has committed the ULTIMATE BETRAYAL. And this isn’t one of their minor spats, it’s been going on for 8 months. It could clearly only be over one thing, but I won’t spoiler you just in case.
Which doesn’t leave me with a lot else to say, come to think of it, so I will leave you with the best line from the epilogue. Creator Francine Pascal (I use the word creator rather than writer because while she wrote this one, the original series were mainly ghostwritten by other people) chose characters at random and explained where they were now, one of whom was Bill Chase. “Who?” You might ask, as I did. Well:
“As a teenager Bill was an incredible swimmer and surfer. He broke all the records in Sweet Valley and went on to win All State medals. [ that clears that up. ] Three years ago he was competing in a triathlon in Australia when he was attacked by a shark and lost his right leg below the knee. [ … ] Today, he teaches surfing to handicapped teenagers and is involved in the Special Olympics.”
If you can take that seriously, you’ll be fine. I cracked up at shark attack; and now I’m off to do a ten years on fanfiction about what became of Nancy Drew.
EDIT: According to this article there is a Sweet Valley High film in the works with a screenplay by Diablo Cody (Juno). What the what.