Monday, March 31, 2008

The Return of Sweet Valley High… Or Why Some Things Should Just Need to Go Away

I know that I am a little late in terms of reporting this item, but I can’t let this pass without saying something about it. Random House is updating and repackaging the Sweet Valley High series for a new generation of teenage girls. For those of you who don’t remember Sweet Valley High, all you basically need to know is that it is about identical twins, Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield, who lead incredibly unrealistic lives in picturesque Sweet Valley, California. Although they look alike (blonde hair, blue eyes, perfect size six four figures), their personalities make them polar opposites. Don’t get me wrong – they are both rather bitchy but in completely different ways. Jessica is a manipulative, shallow, serial dater while Elizabeth is a condescending do-gooder who gives advice even when it is unsolicited. Wackiness ensues, usually due to Jessica’s desperate attempts for attention. Once in a while, the series would include “A Very Special” book that deals with poverty or racism or having to wear glasses. However, for the most part, the books were about how perfect the twins looked.

The Sweet Valley High series was very popular in the 1980s, but things have changed quite a bit since then. Consequently, Random House feels the need to update several of the details about the books. According to, these updates include changing the kind of car the twins drive (from a Fiat to a Jeep Wrangler), the after school activities Elizabeth does (rather than edit the school newspaper, she now edits the school’s website and has a blog), and the size that the twins wear (they have gone from a perfect size six to a perfect size four).

Reading the various articles about this makes me wonder if resurrecting Sweet Valley High and Elizabeth and Jessica is really necessary, since:

  1. Teenage girls tend to read the Gossip Girl books now. They don’t need two passive-aggressive heroines thrown into the mix.
  2. The Sweet Valley High books are even less realistic that the Gossip Girl books (and this is no small feat). Don’t believe me? One book is about a girl who impersonates the twins and tries to take over their lives. In another book, a prince falls in love with Elizabeth. I am not making this up.
  3. Elizabeth and Jessica are arguably two of the most annoying characters to ever grace the pages of young adult literature. What’s more, despite the crazy stunts (Jessica) and the meddling (Elizabeth), they seem absurdly popular. In a real high school, Jessica and Elizabeth would have their Fiat/ Jeep Wrangler keyed and their house covered in toilet paper on a regular basis.

I will admit that I read Sweet Valley High as a preteen. By the time I hit fifth or sixth grade, I realized just how vapid the twins were. Even now, I look back and shudder at all of the misinformation I had because of those damn books. However, they are a lot of fun to mock (just check out the Dari Burger).