Pop Culture

I Read Sweet Valley Confidential So You Won’t Have To

Like a lot of you, I read a lot as a kid. By the time I was in junior high school, I was devouring novels intended for adults, but before I hit the big leagues I cut my teeth on Sweet Valley High. The first Sweet Valley High novel, featuring the beautiful aqua-eyed Wakefield twins came out in 1983 (when I was eight) and I probably started reading the series a couple of years after that. Since then, creator Francine Pascal and her mighty team of ghostwriters have published 181 books, including the original series of 143 books and a selection of “super editions” (think of them like an Archie double digests) plus several spin-off series. It’s quite a canon.

For those of you who missed out on the magic of Sweet Valley, here’s the scoop: the books follow the trials and tribulations of Elizabeth and Jessica Wakefield, identical twins with opposing personalities. Elizabeth is perfect: sweet and kind, a great friend to all. Jessica is selfish and shallow and would throw her own best friend under a bus if it meant getting a choice date to the junior prom. They interact with a huge cast of secondary characters, all who inhabit their perfect little Peyton Place of a suburban California town.

When I started reading Sweet Valley High I think I was aware that the writing wasn’t actually very good, but it sparked an internal love of trashy soap-style drama that I’ve never quite shaken.  Since I did grow to like to read books with some substance I didn’t make it too far into the Sweet Valley world, stopping somewhere around book #50. I do remember certain things though: in book #40, for example, the beautiful but recently dumped (and formerly deaf) Regina Morrow tries cocaine at a party and immediately has a heart attack and dies. Dies! For some reason, more than the boyfriend troubles, abductions, cancer deaths and other drama that took place in Sweet Valley, this one stuck with me. As a result, I have never touched cocaine in my life and will walk out of a room if I see anyone else doing it. So, Sweet Valley has done some good in my life.

Cover of Sweet Valley Confidential
Sweet Valley Confidential. All Sweet Valley images courtesey of

Last month Francine Pascal released a new book Sweet Valley Confidential: 10 Years Later, set in present time when the twins are in their mid-20s (apparently Sweet Valley does not take place in real time). I am willing to tell you that I actually paid for and read it (on Kindle, which cut down on the price and the shameful embarrassment). Since it’s been so long since I read the originals (and those I am not willing to pay for and re-read), I can’t really compare the writing too much, but Sweet Valley Confidential is basically a cross between modern chick lit and a full-on pulp romance, with ridiculous sex scenes and all. I won’t give too much of the plot away because I’m willing to bet there are some Sweet Valley fans around these parts, but while it was soapy and ridiculous and the writing was sloppily repetitive, I did enjoy it. Pascal delved a little bit into Jessica and Elizabeth’s internal thoughts, giving them a little depth, which was kind of nice.

Since I can’t speak as a superfan, I do recommend delving into some of the reviews on Amazon, which confirmed many of my suspicions about my fellow Sweet Valley readers. Some of these women are hardcore and found the new book extremely frustrating, pointing out the multitude of continuity errors that Pascal makes in her new book (which is unsurprising, considering how many Sweet Valley books there are and that Pascal didn’t write most of them herself). But one woman named Alissa makes this very astute point:

I just have to start by saying that those of us that read SVH when we were young mostly did because we liked to read. For me, it was a hobby that I kept and developed since. I am assuming my fellow SVH fans have also continued to read-and I do not mean novels like Twilight or Harlequin romance novels. This book essentially forces you back to an eighth grade reading level.

And this is a sentiment I can get behind. These books were a jumping off point for me, helping to open the door to a life of reading that I truly cherish. Sweet Valley Confidential shows that Pascal hasn’t grown the way that her tween fans have. Luckily for all of us though, Diablo Cody is tackling a cinematic version of the Wakefield files that is bound to be anything but dumbed-down. See you in the theaters in 2012!

By Sissy Larue

30-something, mother-of-two, former rock 'n' roll reporter, currently into retro house-wifey things, bad TV and any movie that I can sneak out of the house to watch.

11 replies on “I Read Sweet Valley Confidential So You Won’t Have To”

I have the day off, and needed entertainment. Thanks to you and the plot synopses on the Wikipedia page for Sweet Valley High, I will be highly entertained for about the next 5 hours. Cheers!

Also, thanks for the nostalgia. I read only one of the books (I think it was a super edition), where they go to an alternate universe or something and each falls in love with a prince. Can’t find the damned book on Wikipedia, although about 5 books seem to involve a prince.

I’m too young to have read Sweet Valley High when it first came out, and the only one I read was about the twins in middle school. The Unicorn Club twin got into some special science program, so obviously she was Super Nerd and was rejected by her friends. I reread that book so many times I’m a little ashamed at some of the details I remember. I might read this over the summer if I’m feeling snarky.

Thank you, Ella! As someone who has a great deal of respect for women’s fiction and romance novels, that comment (and the one about chick lit) bothered me. Hell, Jennifer Crusie (ABD for her PhD at OSU, Masters degree, and multiple times NYT bestseller) got her start at Harlequin!

Yeah, I get really fed up with the contempt that the romance genre gets treated with, and the assumption that a book is automatically bad if it falls into that genre. Some of the finest, most successful female authors of our time are romance writers.

I’m a Sweet Valley Nut. Well, a recovered one. I discovered one of the Sweet Valley Twins books (the ones that focus on 12 year old Liz and Jess) at a flea market when I was about 8, and was soon collecting them all. I moved onto SVH pretty quickly. I read them all, up until I was about 15 and couldn’t stomach the bad writing and horrible plotlines anymore (I think I officially gave up when the werewolf story was introduced). From the ages of 8 to about 14 though, I was hardcore. I had hundreds of sweet valley books, the board game, was a member of the fan club and everything. I have to partially credit the series in nurturing my life long love of reading and writing. I even wrote SVH fanfic back in the day (before I even knew it was called ‘fanfic’). It was a joy to my adolescent self, along with R.L. Stine, Christopher Pike and The Babysitters Club. I grew out of them all by the time I was in high school and moved onto adult novels.

For fun, when I lived overseas I stumbled across the entire SVH collection – every single book was there, and the person was selling them for $30. I snapped those babies up and read them all in the course of two weekends. Oh, the writing was bad. Oh, the plot holes. And man, did I want to slowly murder Jessica Wakefield. After I finished them all I felt kind of ashamed of myself, like one might after a night of bad sex with a bad partner. I felt dirty and mildly embarrassed.

I still think I may pick this book up when it goes on sale, though. Just y’know, because.

I just got Sweet Valley Confidential at the library yesterday! (Yeah, I was so excited that I reserved it…) I loved all of the different Sweet Valley series when I was a kid, I remember getting a big bagful of them out of the library and reading them out on our deck during the summer. The way you described it is pretty much what I’m expecting – soapy, a little sloppy, and enjoyable.

Leave a Reply