August 27

YA Throwback: Double Love (Sweet Valley High #1)

Sweet Valley HighThis week’s YA Throwback post focuses on the first book in the Sweet Valley High series, Double Love. From the description:

Elizabeth and Jessica Wakefield are identical twins—beautiful, blonde, perfect—but they couldn’t be more different from each other. Elizabeth is friendly, good-natured, and kind, and the complete opposite of her clever, conniving sister. Jessica believes the world revolves around her…and the problem is that most of the time it does. Jessica always gets what she wants—at school, amongst her friends, and especially with boys.

This time, she’s got her eye on Todd Wilkins, the good-looking star of Sweet Valley High’s basketball team—and the one boy Elizabeth really likes. Now the twins are in a game of double love, with Todd as first prize. Will Elizabeth fight for the Todd? What will Jessica stoop to in order to get what she wants? Can the bonds of sisterhood stand up to the pangs of a broken heart?

The Sweet Valley High books will always hold a special place in my heart because they came out not long before I started high school myself. And even then, I knew these books weren’t “good” literature. The Wakefield twins and their friends didn’t remotely resemble any of the teenagers I knew back in the 1980s (in fact, they sounded a lot like how my mom described 1950s teenagers to me). And everything and everyone in the books seemed pretty black and white–the good people were syrupy-sweet awesome and the bad people were cartoons, and there was little room for ambiguity in the Wakefields’ sunny California life.

And, frankly, the books aren’t written at a high level, either. Within the first few pages of Double Love, a glaring inconsistency jumps out–Todd Wilkins calls Elizabeth in the morning as the twins are getting ready for school, but when the call is intercepted by Jessica, Jessica compliments Todd on a play she saw him make in basketball practice “today.” Apparently, in Sweet Valley, basketball practice happens reaaaallly early in the morning. With an audience.

But you know how sometimes you know you should be eating a salad but you really want a giant plate of chili cheese fries? Or you know you should be watching the news or a Serious Award Winning Movie and instead you end up watching a soap opera? Yeah–the Sweet Valley High books were a big ol’ soap opera packed with chili cheese fries for me. Even as I knew how silly they were, once I started reading Double Love, I knew I couldn’t stop with just one book. I found the series compulsively readable, and I couldn’t wait to see how Jessica was going to screw up next and how Elizabeth was going to bail her out.

Sweet Valley HighIn creating the Wakefield twins and their friends, Francine Pascal unleashed a publishing juggernaut. Although my relationship with Elizabeth and Jessica was confined to the Sweet Valley High series, other Sweet Valley series followed the girls as junior high and college students, and the recent Sweet Valley Confidentialseries ages the characters into adulthood (where they make some decisions that have angered die-hard fans–don’t click the link unless you want to see spoilers in some of the reviews).

I’ll revisit some of the other Sweet Valley High books in future editions of YA Throwback, so stay tuned. And if you have memories of the Sweet Valley series or have suggestions for future editions of the YA Throwback, feel free to share those in the comments.

August 20

YA Throwback: The Divorce Express

In this week’s edition of the YA Throwback, I’ll be focusing on Paula Danziger’s The Divorce Express, first published in 1982. From the description:

No one wants to ride the Divorce Express. Especially Phoebe. It means leaving her New York City apartment and friends, moving to the country with her dad, and tak­ing the bus every weekend to visit her mom in the city. It means she has to go to ninth grade in a new school and see her father go on dates. It’s a hectic life with no time to feel she really belongs with the kids in either place. Then, just when Phoebe gets a handle on juggling the pieces of her life, her mother makes a decision that will change everything again. How can Phoebe be herself and still be part of both her parents’ worlds?

The Divorce Express
It’s tiny and blurry, but this is the only image I could find of the cover of The Divorce Express that I owned in the 1980s (courtesy of Goodreads-

My sense is that The Divorce Express was never as popular as some of Paula Danziger’s other novels (The Cat Ate My Gymsuit and Can You Sue Your Parents for Malpractice? come to mind) but it’s the one I remember most from my childhood. Although, thankfully, I couldn’t relate to Phoebe’s being caught between divorced parents (my parents have been married for an amazing

fifty-two years), I think many tweens or teens can relate to having to go to a new school and having to make new friends. I switched schools in the middle of Kindergarten and can still remember the terror I felt at being the new kid. And when I started high school, I only knew a few people in my class–who turned out to be total jerks–and I had to find new friends.

Later in life, I moved to New York, where The Divorce Express takes place, and the book became even more real to me. I spent some time upstate (when Phoebe lives with her dad, she’s in Woodstock–yes, that Woodstock) and I lived in the city for several years. Phoebe’s descriptions of the bus terminal and of Upstate hippie living ring true.

If you have memories of Paula Danziger’s The Divorce Express or if you have suggestions for future YA Throwback features, feel free to share in the comments.