Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Sweet Valley Confidential: My review

Things in Sweet Valley aren't so sweet any more.

"Sweet Valley Confidential: Ten Years Later..." by Francine Pascal sure lets readers know about that quickly -- in the first chapter, we learn that Elizabeth is not speaking to Jessica, who is engaged to Todd. Circumstances are bringing the now-New-Yorker Elizabeth back to California, and the girls are both anxious to be in the same place. Jessica desperately wants Elizabeth's forgiveness; Elizabeth, revenge.

These aren't your mothers Wakefield twins. The girls have developed foul mouths and are a bit more grown up in a romance-novel sort of way.

The rest of their high school classmates are grown up, as well, but most seem to carry the same characteristics. Lila Fowler is still shallow, and she is inexplicably married to football star Ken Matthews (he just seems to good for her!). Caroline Pearce is still a gossip. Enid Rollins is still smart. Winston is still a dork, and Bruce Patman is still filthy rich, but somehow the two became best of buds during a dot-com venture. The formerly fat Robin Wilson is "a successful caterer and restaurant critic, chin-deep in delicious food every day."

Perhaps what I liked best about the book was the flashbacks in the midst of all the action, explaining what has happened since high school that has brought the girls to their current situations. It was interesting to catch up with these people who I had gotten to know intimately while reading the books about their lives. But the sad, pathetic part about it was that no one seemed genuinely happy with where they were. Divorces, falling outs, cancer, death. The real world was not as peaceful and forgiving as Sweet Valley High.

I found it hard to believe that all these high school classmates would still be in touch with the same groups of people, as if no one had found new friends or moved away. But maybe that's because I'm from a bigger town than Sweet Valley, where most people I know from high school have moved on in their own way while maintaining the friendships that really meant something.

I also was puzzled by the fact that Jessica has been married twice, but her pending nuptials to Todd seem to be the talk of the town and the most exciting thing for the Wakefield family (minus Elizabeth). Really, Ned and Alice? Your daughter is about to walk the aisle for the third time -- to marry your other daughter's LOOOONG-time beau -- and you are THAT thrilled about it?

Is the book worth reading? Maybe. If you were a big fan of the Sweet Valley series, of course you'll want to catch up with the ol' gang. Casual readers, maybe not so much.

The book is (mostly) written better than the original series, until after a climactic dinner party when Pascal returns to the overly dramatic descriptions of how he knew he loved her all along and that sort of thing. But I suppose if you enjoyed reading Sweet Valley books for cheesy descriptions, then you won't be missing out.

And it's nice to see Elizabeth being a little more Jessica and Jessica being a little more Elizabeth. The girls were so set in their ways growing up, and now that they are adults, they seem to have reached a point where they are able to comfortably be more like the other person without losing themselves. (And if you didn't notice it before, you'll really get a sense for how narcissistic and pompous Jessica was.)

If nothing else, "Sweet Valley Confidential" was an easy way to enter another world at least temporarily, which can relieve readers of their own problems and let them feast on the drama of other people's lives. As Jessica herself says (on page 224), "Gossip is the best part of Sweet Valley. If we don't dish, what are we going to talk about?" We're all a little Caroline Pearce, aren't we?

-- Cheryl Sadler | | @nhcheryl

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