Early on in Sweet Valley Confidential Elizabeth Wakefield wonders if she’ll ever be free of Sweet Valley.
Good question, Liz. What was so addictive about the Sweet Valley series? I mean, those books are like crack. I knew they were ridiculous even back in the 90’s, but they were so enjoyable. Sure, the Wakefields had some hard knocks, but they also possessed the remarkable ability to bounce back really, really fast. I ate it all up: The outrageous high school drama that came out of ridiculous misunderstandings; the identity switches and resulting chaotic fallouts; the exclusivity of the Unicorn Club; the high school gang wars in suburbia; stalkers; and, of course, THE VAMPIRE BOYFRIEND (actually, I think there might’ve been more than one—and is that even weird anymore?).
But most of all—confession time—I loved the idea of having an alter ego and confidant. The good twin/bad twin high jinks were endlessly fun to read. So when I heard the series was getting a reboot by creator Francine Pascal herself, I was excited. Bring on the crazy drama, I said!
The series was incredibly popular back in the ‘80s and ‘90s, and the Wakefield twins were iconic: blond hair, blue-green eyes, impossibly beautiful and popular.
Ten years later, not much has changed. Jessica’s not as boy crazy as she was before, but she’s still adorable. Elizabeth is still beautiful and perfect. They still have eyes the “shade of aqua that danced in the light like shards of precious stones”, and silky hair: “the cascading kind”. And let’s not forget: “There wasn’t a thing wrong with their figures, either. It was as if billions of possibilities all fell together perfectly. Twice.”
Sweet Valley Confidential takes us back to the Wakefields and the Sweet Valley residents, ten years down the road. Unfortunately, so much of the glitter and shamelessness of the original series was lost this time around: twenty-seven-year old Jessica and Elizabeth are on the outs on opposite coasts, both of them ricocheting between anger and anguish. Why? Oh, because Jessica had an affair with Todd, and the two of them fell in love. Elizabeth flees to New York, and the twins spend most of the book apart. We’re told the story of their estrangement in a series of first person flashbacks that accompany each character’s narration.
The twins have grown up—they’re having sex, going out for drinks, and in Elizabeth’s case, living miles away from home in New York, where she spends most of the book being emo. Jessica is dying from the guilt of her betrayal and the loss of the twinness, and Todd is Todd (re: plain oatmeal bland).
All our old favorites are there—Bruce Patton, Lila Fowler, Ken Matthews, Enid Rollins, Aaron Dallas, A. J. Morgan, Caroline Pearce—but we mostly get brief hit-and-run encounters that read more like paragraphs in the society pages. There isn’t much interaction of the main cast until the very end, when the confrontation between the twins ends with model mom Alice Wakefield dropping an f-bomb at their grandmother’s birthday dinner. (Ok, that part was pretty awesome.)
I wanted the nostalgia, but I don’t feel I got it here. For the good old times at Sweet Valley High, check out these hilarious recaps. And! Maybe most exciting of all? Diablo Cody will be adapting the original series into a feature film.
P.S. For comparison purposes for those born after 1990, let me just say: Gossip Girl’s got nothing on the shenanigans that went on in Sweet Valley. Jessica Wakefield is the original Serena van der Woodsen, the Serena deluxe: effortlessly gorgeous, selfish and self-centered, well-meaning but constantly making a mess of things, and still escaping unscathed. (She’s also a sociopathic schemer, but unlike Blair, her schemes usually combusted in her face. At which point Liz would bail her out.)
Lee likes all things spy, smelling books, and is almost always craving a cheeseburger. She tweets from @lkyim about reading books NOT assigned for class. Also she likes Greek mythology. And dogs.