Ah, Sweet Valley High. How addicted to you I used to be (I mean it – I used to read these books all the time). I aspired to be Jessica Wakefield when I was a tween (even though in all likelihood I was more of an Elizabeth). Basically, I just wanted to be a Wakefield with their perfect size 6 figures, blond hair, blue-green eyes and dimples in their left cheeks (if you are wondering just how I remember how they looked, it was pretty hard not to – given the fact that Every. Single. Book. would begin with the same description of these sun-kissed California twins – it was pretty much ingrained into my sub-conscious after a while) . These girls seemed to have it made. They were the most beautiful girls at SVH, all the boys wanted them and all the other girls wanted to be them (except for Lila Fowler, Jessica’s best friend and sometimes enemy – Lila rocked! Honestly, the series should have been about her).
The series was created by Francine Pascal but was written by a team of ghost-writers – something I did not know until I was older. It began in 1983 and ran for approximately 20 years, releasing around 152 novels, not to mention the spin-off series including Sweet Valley Twins, Sweet Valley Senior Year, and Sweet Valley University. It was massively popular at the time, but with the YA genre really taking off in the late 90’s, the series popularity dwindled, though many people of a certain age will remember the Wakefield twins and their escapades.
These books were really like the YA version of a Jackie Collins novel. They were flashy, trashy, and completely unrealistic – but I absolutely adored them (at least until I developed a little more of a discerning nature). Yet looking back, I often wonder just why I idolized those Wakefield twins. Elizabeth is a bit of a goody two-shoes and a bore (not to mention the fact that she is completely patronizing, smug, and condescending). Jessica…well, Jessica is pretty much a psychopath. She lies, she cheats, she treats all of her so-called loved ones and friends like crap – she really sucks.
You may be asking at this point: why are you writing about this series if you hate it and the main characters so much? Well, it is easy to snark on the Sweet Valley High books, with their convoluted plots and soup opera dramatics (seriously, seriously whacked out plot twists and shenanigans) but these books are like crack for the teenage soul (or pre-teen in my case). They are so bad, they are fantastic and although looking back on them I am more inclined to shake my head and laugh at some of the antics, when I was younger I was enthralled by those glamorous Wakefield twins and their friends and just couldn’t get enough. I would go to the library and take as many of the books out as I could manage and tear through them in a couple of days (the volumes were quite slim so were easy to devour quickly).
I owned quite a few of these books when I was a kid but gave most of these away to a younger cousin when I outgrew them, although I did hold onto a couple of them just for keepsakes. I have sorely neglected my challenge to myself to read vintage YA books from the 1980’s and 1990’s. I had intended to try to read at least one vintage YA novel per month but that has just not happened. Since the SVH books played such a huge role in getting me into YA novels in the first place, I thought it would be quite fitting to get back into the swing of it by reading a couple of books from this series and posting my thoughts about them.
Here is a fun quiz from Buzzfeed (click on image below) for SVH fans:
Guess which character I got?