Return to Sweet Valley High: A Retrospective of Truly Excellent Literature

Like many misguided children, I used to read the Sweet Valley Twins books. They weren’t ever going to give Katherine Paterson or Madeline L’Engle a run for their money when it came to great children’s literature, but they were entertaining and gossipy and fun. I mean, who would not want to read about ballet and unicorns and evil ghosts that haunt carnivals that can be vanquished by friendship and the spirit (haha) of self-sacrifice?

Yesterday, I looked up a few of the Sweet Valley High books (the series after “Twins” which eventually spun into the TV show). These weren’t as good as the Twins books, but it wasn’t until I checked out the wikipedia article that I realized just how completely ridiculous they were.

So, here is a run-through of the progressively absurd series synopses:

The start of the series is predictable, but not bad. “Elizabeth Wakefield really likes Todd Wilkins and he likes her but her twin sister Jessica wants Todd for herself.” Sibling rivalry and romance.

Book 10: “Annie Whitman wants to join the cheerleading squad, but Jessica doesn’t want “easy” Annie anywhere the near the team as she feels Annie’s reputation will affect the squad.” Cheerleading and good morals. Okay.

Book 12: “Steven Wakefield’s girlfriend Trica Martin dies of leukemia.” Coping with death and dying. Legit storyline and points for exploring emotional grief.

Book 26: “Regina and her parents are held hostage; Liz, Nicholas and Bruce try to help rescue them.” This is getting a little silly, but after 4 seasons of the O.C., I still find this to be a plausible storyline.

Book 40: “Bruce and Regina have been dating for a while and are happy, or at least that’s what Regina thinks. Amy Sutton has other plans. Eventually Regina finds out about them and confronts her friend Liz who knew what was going on. Feeling rejected, she turns to a new crowd who are wild and into drugs.” Hostage situations, now drugs. This is starting to sound like 24. Just replace “Amy Sutton” with “Tony Almeida.”

Book 41: “Ever since Regina’s death, people have been ignoring Molly Hecht as they blame her for what happened. Liz tries not to blame Molly for what happened but finds it hard. Eventually Liz and Molly’s friend Justin try to help Molly from making a mistake.” Book 40 apparently did not end well. Thanks for the spoiler alert.

The next 3 are about people who I have absolutely no recollection of: Book 50: “Jade Wu wants to dance, but her strict father disapproves.” Book 51: “Ronnie Edwards has a problem with gambling.” Book 52: “John Pfeifer goes out with Jennifer Mitchell.” The last one is an all-time low. Is this really worth writing a book about?

Book 62: “Jessica decides the boys she has been dating are all the same, she signs up with a dating agency and creates 2 different identities, she dates both boys being a different person herself. What happens when she makes a date with both for the same night by mistake……” I am confused just reading this.

Book 93: “Annie Whitman’s mom is getting remarried and Annie is thrilled. Not only does she get a new stepdad but she also gets a new stepsister. When she discovers that Cheryl is black, Annie invites all the Asian and black kids from school even though she doesn’t know half of them, in a well-meaning, but misguided, attempt to prove her open-mindedness.” This sounds like a misguided attempt to address racism, but ironically raises the issue that there ARE no Asian or black kids in Sweet Valley, or there are, but they are not allowed to be on the book covers.

Book 96: “Elizabeth is arrested for killing Jessica’s boyfriend, Sam, in a drunk-driving accident, being charged for manslaughter. Meanwhile, Jessica steals Todd away from Elizabeth.” I like how both “killing” and “stealing boyfriends” are given equal weight in this description.

Book 100: “Margo arrives in Sweet Valley, attempting to take over Elizabeth’s identity, but ends up dead, when she terrorizes her. This traumatic situation bonds Liz and Jess all over again.” A suspiciously large amount of people wind up dead in these stories.

Book 106: “The London story is wrapped up, as Liz’s friend Luke is discovered to be the werewolf; and she is destroyed by his death.” Not even going to touch this one.

Book 122: “The feud between Palisades and SVH reaches a deadly conclusion when Christian Gorman is accidentally killed, and Jessica wins the surfing contest.” Again with the death. I have to assume that the surfing reference is an attempt to lighten the story.

Super Edition 12: “Olivia Davidson and some others are dead, and their lives were celebrated.” Oh, the senseless violence of it all.

Super Thrillers 11: “Elizabeth must eventually save Jessica and the cheerleading squad when they are kidnapped by their new advisor.” This sounds like the plot to a particularly bad late night film.

Conclusion

I love the gaping discrepancies in genre (i.e. cheerleading, death, death, surfing, death). My guess is that this is due to the lack of author continuity or overall plan for the series.

For a fun project, I challenge you to read the series, count the number of deaths and then compare them to the number of times Stephanie Meyers could have used the speaker tag “said” instead of some overly descriptive, distracting dialog tag like “sighed, whispered, whimpered,” etc. Winner gets a box set of the other author’s complete series.

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