My gut reaction after reading Sweet Valley Confidential was to banish it from my memory, and restore the Sweet Valley I grew up with and loved.
Because my collection of Sweet Valley books (including those signed by Cynthia and Brittany Daniels when they came over and I giddily lined up with my friends at National Book Store for the book signing) did not survive my childhood, some foraging was in order. I found some reissued copies of SVH released in 2008, and some e-books of SVH 1-12 apparently encoded by some hardcore fans. Later on, I managed to hunt down some actual SVH books, and one SVT. I spent one whole Saturday a couple months ago reading them!
In #1, Double Love, Elizabeth and Jessica both like Todd Wilkins. Jessica completely disregards her sister’s feelings, while Elizabeth is ready to give way for Jessica’s happiness. In #2, Secrets, Jessica gets ahold of Enid’s terrible secret and sets off a chain of events leading up to Enid getting dumped by her gorgeous boyfriend Ronnie. Jessica conveniently consoles Ronnie, while Elizabeth tries to make things right. Jessica dates Bruce Patman in #3, Playing with Fire, and Liz is worried that Jessica will get hurt because she is changing her personality for Bruce.
In #4, Power Play, Robin Wilson wants to join SVH sorority Pi Beta Alpha to be closer to Jessica, but Jessica does not think Robin is sorority material because she is overweight. Liz sponsors Robin in the sorority, and Jess sabotages Robin’s chances of getting in by assigning impossible tasks to Robin and harping on the other girls. Liz and Lila Fowler also have a moment in this book, when Liz helps out Lila after she is caught shoplifting to get her dad’s attention. Jessica goes out with college student Scott Daniels in #5, All Night Long, which leads to disastrous consequences. When Jessica doesn’t come home, Elizabeth comes to the rescue and covers up for her sister.
#6, Dangerous Love, and #7, Dear Sister, were very intense! Todd gets a motorcycle, and Liz’s parents have forbidden her to ride it. Todd sells the motorcycle because of his love for Elizabeth, and touched, Elizabeth persuades Todd to take her on a short ride. They get into an accident and Elizabeth ends up in a coma. Elizabeth wakes up and turns into a clone of Jessica, dumps Todd, and flirts with every boy in school. Jessica wants the old Elizabeth back.
In #8, Heartbreaker, Jessica plots revenge at Bill Chase, who once turned her down for a date. Bill is taking the bait and appears to be falling for Jessica, not noticing Deedee Gordon, who has a crush on him. In #9, Racing Hearts, Roger Barrett (then not yet revealed to be related to the Patmans) wins a running competition at school and catches the eye of Lila Fowler. Jessica works at Mr. Wakefield’s law firm, but is finding it was not at all how she expected. In #9, Wrong Kind of Girl, Jessica tries to stop Annie Whitman from joining the cheerleading squad because of “easy” Annie’s bad reputation.
Suzanne Devlin makes her first appearance in #10, Too Good to Be True. Suzanne stays at the Wakefields while Jessica flies to New York with the Devlins. Suzanne wreaks havoc in Sweet Valley — she steals Elizabeth’s lavalier necklace, turns people against Elizabeth, and frames English teacher Roger Collins for assault when he doesn’t respond to her charms. I wanted to read this book in particular because I remember reading Special Christmas, which shows Suzanne Devlin’s return to Sweet Valley.
Finally, there’s the legendary #12, When Love Dies, where Steven’s girlfriend Tricia Martin is revealed to be dying of leukemia.
I had a blast reading Sweet Valley High, because I have never read the first dozen books before. I grew up reading mainly Sweet Valley Kids (my first ever Sweet Valley book was #6, Lila’s Secret, which unfortunately was also my first experience of lending someone a book and not getting it back! I still hold a grudge against that classmate.) and Sweet Valley Twins, the SVH Sagas, and some odd SVHs left over from my sisters’ collections — mostly those numbered from the 30s to the 80s. I was lucky to score these turtleback SVHs from the bargain bookstore!
It appears the twin dynamic hasn’t quite hit the groove yet in the first few books. Jessica plays the “bad twin” to the hilt, something I didn’t expect. I don’t remember Jessica being that vicious in the books I’ve read. Flighty, mischievous, irresponsible, and occasionally gossipy, but rarely downright mean. And Elizabeth starts out as Jessica’s doormat, as if her sole purpose in life was to undo the trouble Jessica manages to create. Some people like Jessica more than Elizabeth, and some vice versa, but I actually enjoyed them most when they were together — they had great adventures and made twin-ness so much fun that all Sweet Valley readers at one point or another must’ve fantasized about having their own identical twin.
I read the 2008 reissued volumes of SVH, and while the general storylines are still the same, there were some updates, presumably to appeal to a younger generation.
Roxy, Abercrombie, Juicy Couture, and Roberto Cavalli take over Jordache and CK territory, Bruce Patman drives a Cadillac XLR Roadster instead of a Porsche, “nerd” evolves to “loser.” Jessica’s Jane Fonda exercise routine gets replaced by an elliptical trainer. Bo Derek, Brooke Shields, Robert Redford are dropped, replaced by Jake Gyllenhaal and Zac Efron. They also have Cosmo, Us Weekly, Beauty and the Geek, T-Mobiles, iPods and MySpace.
The 21st-century-fication isn’t all that intrusive, except in Secrets, where Jessica finds out about George after reading finding a folder with Enid’s emails on Elizabeth’s computer (what, Jessica doesn’t have her own?) and then emails them to Ronnie. Originally, she finds a letter from George that had fallen under Elizabeth’s bed, photocopies it, and drops a copy inside Ronnie’s locker. The Dalton-Ken fiasco, which was basically just some nasty messages on a blackboard, is taken to a whole new level with photoshopped picture of naked teacher and student emailed to the whole school.
Some modifications are pretty hard to miss: Jessica and Elizabeth go from a “perfect” size six to a “perfect” size four, Elizabeth’s column in the Oracle, originally named “Eyes and Ears,” becomes “The Insider.” The Oracle is a website, not the school paper. The Pi Beta Alpha sorority becomes the Sweet Valley High Beautification Committee, or the Beauties for short. And no Dairi Burger — Valley Diner it is. The language is also updated, and, well, “valley girl” comes to mind.
I feel the updates they did on SVH take away some integrity from the original text. I think people who would pick up these books are either fans who wish to relive their Sweet Valley memories, or readers who want to find out what Sweet Valley was like for the past generations. And I feel these reissued copies won’t deliver the same kind of experience. I think they should’ve reissued them as vintage, like they did with Nancy Drew, and marketed it to the hardcore fans.
Reading the reissued books left a bad taste in my mouth so I foraged at bargain bookstores yet again and managed to find SVT #73, Lila’s Music Video. I remember reading this when I was young — I think I read all of the SVTs up until the spinoffs, The Unicorns (which was good until the mean girls took over), Team Sweet Valley (with only two books), and even a few of the Sweet Valley Jr. High books, although I stopped there because they weren’t quite the same.
In Lila’s Music Video, the Unicorns are making a music video to enter on RockTV, and Lila wants to be the lead singer because it’s her camera. Unfortunately she can’t sing to save her life. Shy Johanna Porter (Julie Porter’s sister) writes the song for the video and tries to help Lila by taping the song so Lila could study it. In desperation, Lila decides to lipsynch Johanna’s voice for the video to avoid humiliation. The video turns out well, and they win on RockTV. Unfortunately, Lila is invited to perform live, and she has to find a way to pull it off without revealing her terrible voice.
It’s funny how, 16 SVH books later, it only took this one SVT book to hit the spot. I was curious enough to read the original SVH and the reissued versions, but for the nostalgia factor, my memories of Sweet Valley really pretty much revolve around SVT.
I get now why my cousin Dianne is trying to rebuild her Sweet Valley collection (and I think, after this, I’ll do the same. Or maybe help her do it and resurrect our “communal” library) — Sweet Valley feels like home. And it’s nice to go back, once in a while.
Sweet Valley High, 1-12, Sweet Valley High (2008), 2, 4, 5, 6, and SVT #73, Lila’s Music Video, books #69-85 for 2011
No rating nostalgia! :D