Lip Lit: Sweet Valley Confidential
I started reading the infectious Sweet Valley series when I was little. I started out with Sweet Valley Kids, and graduated through to Sweet Valley University when I was about twelve. I remember reading a SVU book during a silent reading class, and my grade seven English teacher looking at me, sighing and saying, ‘Oh, Miss Dumas. I thought you were better than that.’
And while I stopped reading them after that, they always held a special place in my heart. They were just so trashy and lurid. Maybe it’s the writer in me, but I’ve always had a voyeuristic appetite for drama (just none in my own life, thankyouverymuch).
I remember reading one particularly intense super thriller edition when I was ten – something about being in London with a werewolf – and my mother asking me to take our the trash. I threw down the book and uttered the line they have not let me live down since; ‘I’m just like Cinderella in this house!’ I was very serious about my Sweet Valley.
Which is why, fourteen years after I stopped reading them, I was a more than excited when I heard of the upcoming release Sweet Valley Confidential: Ten Years Later. Shortly after it was released, I went into Big W to purchase a copy, solely so I could use the self check-out lines and no-one could judge me.
I was excited to read it. I was expecting pure trash. I was expecting insane things would happen, but somehow everything would turn out okay. Like, remember when there was a girl called Margo who after donning a blonde wig was the identical match for Jessica and Elizabeth? And she was crazy, and wanted Elizabeth’s life? And Liz and Jess were fighting because Jess spiked Liz’s punch and Liz drunk-drove and killed Jess’s boyfriend? And Margo tried to kill Liz, but then Jess saved her? And we all thought Margo was dead, apart from she wasn’t, and she also had an equally crazy identical twin called Nora who decided she wanted Jess’s life? But of course, Jess and Liz survived, the evil twins died, and everything was once again all sunshine and palm trees.
I was expecting a book so awful that it was fantastic. But no. It was just awful.
I don’t think anyone wants to read about Elizabeth Wakefield crying over orgasms. And I won’t say much else because I don’t want to give away major plot points, but a whole bunch of things happen that are completely and ludicrously out of character. There are an insane amount of continuality issues, so it doesn’t even feel like you are in Sweet Valley. Also: there’s a frightening erotic description of Steven Wakefield. From Jessica’s point of view.
The characters are all sad. They are used-up, broken and still stuck in high school mentalities. I don’t know what Francine Pascal is going through to make her so bitter, but pretty much everyone’s lives sucks. Even Lila’s. And we all know Lila Fowler would be living in Manhattan as the fashion editor of Vogue. And Anna Wintour would be scared of her.
In interviews, Francine said she updated the series because the Sweet Valley readers have obviously grown up, and they would want to read something in an adult style. Oh, honey, no. I think I speak for most Sweet Valley readers when I say that we wanted to read a new one for nostalgia. And the adult style isn’t really there. It’s a book written in a young adult voice, but about 27-year-olds, with really awkward sex scenes. Hate to break it to you Francine, but your now adult readers are reading Jonathan Franzen. And even if they are reading, say, Sophie Kinsella, at least she has charm and knows how to formulate a sentence.
The problem with Sweet Valley Confidential is this: they ain’t the characters we grew up with. It’s not the world we loved. And the writing is terrible, because it’s trying to be something more than it should.
Oh, and also? Elizabeth owns a Beyonce CD. She would never.
If you ever loved the Sweet Valley series, dig them out of your garage and reread them. Don’t delude yourself into thinking SVC will be full of nostalgia, because it reads like a really awful story about people who have the same names as our (former) beloved characters. And if you never really read Sweet Valley, stay away, because it’s an atrociously bad book.
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