This week’s YA Throwback post focuses on the first book in the Sweet Valley High series, Double Love. From the Amazon.com 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.
In 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.