Finding books now is much easier than it was when I was younger. I can sit on my computer and search Amazon for exactly the titles I might be interested in. And, well, I have my own finances to spend on books. When I was younger I basically read whatever I could get my hands on because there wasn’t another option. My grandmother was a large provider of books but I wasn’t yet familiar with authors that I could rely on and since I had to pretty much stand on top of a book to see what it was, I didn’t find as much enjoyment in perusing bookstore or library shelves as I do now. Anyway, my grandmother sticks to serial romances so it was no big leap for her to suggest trying out something similar. This also meant that she had an easy way to keep track of what to get next in terms of gifts because then she could just run around with a list of numbers rather than a lengthy bibliography.
All that is to say that I was one of the many that read The Baby-Sitters Club and Sweet Valley High. Both of which are going through a bit of a revitalization of late. BSC is apparently re-releasing books with updates for the current times; while, SVH has a new book penned by creator Francine Pascal set ten years after the original series. For those of you who were living under a literary rock in the early 80’s to late 90’s (or aren’t a girl), Sweet Valley High was a series of books about two identical twins living the life in idyllic Southern California. They’re blond, they’re beautiful, and they’re absolutely not alike at all. Basically, it was a soap opera in written form about sixteen-year-olds. Anyway, curiosity compelled me to check out the new SVH book.
It’s been way more than ten years since I stopped reading Sweet Valley High books. I’ve forgotten more about the series as a whole than most people are even vaguely familiar with. I was never a diehard fan, but they were something to read and they weren’t terrible.1 But to be honest, I was not expecting much out of this book.
Which is probably good because it didn’t offer much. Oh, there’s a story of sorts there. One that kind of meanders around before bothering to go anywhere and then when it does finally manage to get off its own arse it peters out in a rather unremarkable and way too conveniently SVH style way. You know, happy endings abound. Blah blah blah. That in itself is irksome, but the thing that just bewilders me is that there’s so much time devoted to the pure shock value of introducing the old characters in their new and completely different lives. It plays out rather like a sensationalized high school reunion where (shockingly!) everyone has grown up and had these dramatic lives that no one expected. And maybe that was the point? Even so it’s either not interesting enough or so over-the-top that it defies believability. Mostly, I just found myself rolling my eyes.
Liz and Jess are basically the same as I recall them, if not even more dynamically extreme in their personalities. It’s hard to believe that anyone can be as selfless as Liz or as selfish as Jess and yet ten years later they’re still having basically the same issues they were having when we could blame it on teenaged hormones. Todd’s completely one-dimensional and everyone else has so little time in the spotlight that they’re basically day players on a television show.
If it were just that, I’d probably have managed to gleam a modicum of enjoyment out of the book just chalking it up to a trashy read. But then there’s all the stuff that truly aggravated me. One, the book jumps points-of-view like I change socks. Sometimes paragraph by paragraph! This is kind of humorous since there’s an apparent clue as to who is telling the story at the beginning of each chapter by way of a caption for which city we’re in because I don’t know about you but I always have a hard time figuring out the difference between Manhattan and Sweet Valley.
The coup de grâce is that the book switches what tense it’s told in, too! And in a move that can only be the most backwards thing I can think of the FLASHBACKS are told in first person present tense, while the rest of the book is in third person past-tense. Which leads me into my biggest issue of all: the Valley speak. Really, do people actually talk like that? I’ve never been to the West Coast, but it just seems quite far-fetched. Moreover I don’t recall Jessica having this odd speech impediment in the actual series and even if she did I would think that in ten years she could have grown out of using “like” and “so” and “way” every third word. Not to mention no one else except Jess speaks like that.
Even though there was all that to contend with, surprisingly, I did read the entire book. I can only chalk it up to the fact that it was just too much of a train wreck to put down, but I will admit there were a few moments spread here and there that I found truly enjoyable. Unfortunately, they were so few and far between they couldn’t stop the sinking that was this book’s ship . . . and then there was the epilogue which is just downright cringe-worthy in every way that sealed its fate entirely. My curiosity is fully sated and yet I can’t help but feel it was a waste of my time.
- I do have a theory that it is through reading this kind of stuff in my “tween” years that completely put me off to soap operas and chick flicks. ↩