SVH update: Mean girls and high school dances. Lots of high school dances.
1. The "updated" versions of the books started out super cheesy, but are now preferred to the originally published versions.
Danielle: I mentioned in the original Sweet Valley Confidential post here on the Book Blog that the books were re-released with updates to make them more appealing to today's young girls. The first six books in the series that Cheryl and I read were the updated versions. Initially I thought the updates were super cheesy. It seemed like they were forcing changes in the original storyline to include references to cell phones. There was one particular part that sticks out, in which the girls were preparing for a dance contest which was becoming more popular with the students of SVH because of the recent surge of reality dance programming on television.(I can't remember which book; oops! I read 5 in one night, though, so forgive me if I've got the details all jumbled.) As I started reading, each of these references seemed outrageously forced, and totally unnecessary. However, books 7 and 8 that Cheryl and I read were the original versions... and Oh. My. Gosh. They are so different. In "Heartbreaker," the eighth book of the series, Jessica is starring in the school play and believes she is going to get her big break. She starts dreaming of starring opposite Sylvester Stallone, and I am immediately lost. So I guess now I see the benefit of updating the books. At least in that respect.
Cheryl: Danielle and I talked about this the other night, and I think she sums it up pretty nicely. I guess I sort of found the updates in the books annoying until I returned to the originals and realized how necessary they modernization is.
2. The dramatic subplots are taken so lightly. Almost too lightly. The books are very "soap opera-y," as Cheryl so eloquently put it.
Danielle: I once told a coworker who was unfamiliar with the Sweet Valley series that the books were pretty much soap opera smut for teens. I was definitely not mistaken. As I said before, the subplots throughout are incredibly intense. Teachers accused of having affairs with students, attempted rape (which happens multiple times in multiple books), shoplifting, drug use, drinking, driving under the influence ... So many things that are a really big deal are handled so lightly. It's shocking! And then, to really amp up the soap opera-y-ness of the whole series, Liz is left in a coma and comes out of it seemingly having switched places with Jessica! She goes around flirting with boys, partying, shopping, and generally misbehaving. Then, in a scene in which she is almost raped by The. Bruce. Patman., she bumps her head and awakens having forgotten that she was ever any different. It's impossible to keep up with the lives of the characters in these books! And it's hard to identify with the situations, because my high school experience was NOTHING like that. (I was in marching band; 'nuff said.)
Cheryl: I was in marching band too, but I think there was some element of soap oper-y-ness to my high school experience. And I know that in high school, what's going on with the boy you like is kind of a big deal ... but probably not a bigger deal than getting stuck in the wilderness with a group of drunk college kids after one tried to rape you (and P.S. why in the heck did all the Sweet Valley parents think it was OK for their high school kids to be dating college kids?!?!?). That would be the bigger gossip than who was talking to whom at Casa Del Sol (or the Dairi Burger in the original books). I've read on Wikipedia the summaries of the books to come, and, without spoiling much, stuff gets deathly dramatic without consequences.
3. The books recap the dramatic subplots from previous books in an even more cavalier fashion.
Danielle: Cheryl pointed out how awkwardly some of the serious situations are recapped as the series progresses. For example, Liz's best friend, Enid Rollins, confesses to a history with drugs and alcohol, a secret which eventually gets out to the entire school. Yet, days later, she is able to get a super hot new boyfriend and act like she was never mortified the secret got out in the first place. Then, a few books later, it is summed up like "Yeah, so Enid once did bad things, but it's OK now." Yeah, OK. Because mixing pot and Ecstasy and alcohol while driving, and hitting a young boy who was left paralyzed for LIFE is really only worth a passing mention.
4. Jessica is a total ... well, you know. Mean girl.
Danielle: Jessica sucks. She shops all the time, only cares about herself, plays with the emotions of every guy she meets, expects her sister to constantly cover for her, and is pretty much just a meanie. Why does anybody like her? I doubt anybody really does, but I suppose nobody would be as interested in reading about two Liz-like girls who were dedicated students with nice friends who had little to no scandal in their lives.
Cheryl: My favorite Wakefield twin was always Elizabeth. The more I am reading, the more I am wondering how in the heck anyone could ever like Jessica? Also, why is Jessica the "hot" twin if she and Elizabeth look identical? And for as much as Jessica seems to put herself out there, if you know what I mean, when it comes down to it, she really seems like she doesn't want to be putting herself out there, if you know what I mean.
Danielle: I guess what it all boils down to is making the books compelling. If both girls were total sweethearts, if there weren't crazy plot twists and ridiculous situations, nobody would want to stick around. Of course, the books take things a little over the top, but Francine Pascal obviously knew how to sell books: You can't go wrong with a combination of scandalous scenarios and crush-worthy boys to flirt with.
Cheryl: Francine Pascal really created an addicting series here. I've noticed with the older books that each ends with a lead-in to the next, asking the question for the next topic. Of course I want to know if Roger will melt Lila's icy heart!
One more burning question:
WHY IS THERE A DANCE IN (almost) EVERY BOOK??? We both had three annual dances at our high schools: homecoming, winter formal, prom.
Random trivia we have noticed from reading so many books back to back:
When Jessica is embellishing how many times something has happened, she always uses the number 137.
How far are you in your Countdown to Sweet Valley Confidential?
Danielle Capriato, DCapriato@News-Herald.com
Cheryl Sadler, CSadler@News-Herald.com