Sunday, 24 April 2011

Sweet Valley Confidential - Francine Pascal

It’s been ten years since the Wakefield twins graduated from Sweet Valley High, and a lot has happened.

For a start, Elizabeth and Jessica have had a falling out of epic proportions, after Jessica committed the ultimate betrayal, and this time it looks like Elizabeth will never be able to forgive her.

Suddenly Sweet Valley isn’t big enough for the two of them, so Elizabeth has fled to New York to immerse herself in her lifelong dream of becoming a serious reporter, leaving a guilt-stricken Jessica contemplating the unthinkable: life without her sister.

Despite the distance between them, the sisters are never far from each other’s thoughts. Jessica longs for forgiveness, but Elizabeth can’t forget her twin’s duplicity. Uncharacteristically, she decides the only way to heal her broken heart is to get revenge. Always the ‘good’ twin, the one getting her headstrong sister out of trouble, Elizabeth is now about to turn the tables...

Despite having read some really critical reviews of this book, I ended up thoroughly enjoying it. My opinion may be affected by the fact that I devoured this novel while drugged up on paracetamol and ibuprofen while I was battling a virus, but during my period of illness it kept me entertained, and that's what's important.

I'm a bit of an odd Sweet Valley fan - I started reading the books in 2000, when I was nine years old, with SVJH. I moved on to SVH, SVSY and SVU when I was 11, although my library's SVH collection was pretty poor considering this was the Noughties at that stage. As a result, I don't think I ever read any of the original, pre-100 SVH books. (Of course, I have since bought a collection of the first 3 SVH books from Amazon, much to my fiancé's amusement). So I grew up with the Wakefield sisters who lived in a world where alcohol, mobile phones and the internet existed. I never read about date rapes and high school sororities and (many) kidnappings. Perhaps if I'd grown up with the original Wakefield twins, I'd be more upset. But as it is, I'm only nineteen myself and this book provided a nice little nostalgia kick for me, back to the early Noughties when Sweet Valley Junior High covers were sporting Sketchers and catchphrases like "Whatever!"

This book is pure escapism. Yes, it's pretty awful. Pascal forgets some pretty major plot points (even I remembered that Mr Fowler's first name is George, come on!) and killing off Winston and barely mentioning Lila were pretty lame. Not to mention the number of times that Jessica says "like" and "so" because apparently Pascal thinks that's how twenty-seven year old women talk. This book is definitely not without its faults, but I didn't read it expecting to uncover a literary classic. If you're looking for a fun escape from real life and don't mind the author messing up some plot points and some cheesy dialogue, then this is the book for you.

Like others reviewers have said, this is like logging on to Facebook and finding out what your old school friends are up to. Even I, who graduated high school less than two years ago, can see the appeal in this. It's always a interesting to look through my "Recommended Friends" and discover that four people who dropped out of my high school already have kids, or that the guy from my primary school who was super geeky and awkward now has a really pretty girlfriend. Revisting the Sweet Valley girls is like looking up old classmates on Facebook, and Pascal is, for the most part, realistic. Todd does not have an amazing career in sport, instead writing the sports column in a local newspaper; Liz is struggling to make a career in journalism and is barely earning anything; Jessica has a job for a cosmetics company; Lila still has lots of money but an unhappy marriage, and so on. Some parts I didn't find so believable, such as Steven coming out as being gay, which wasn't even hinted at in the other books. Or the fact that no one had any kids! Sure, people are starting families later now, but particularly in somewhere like Sweet Valley where stay-at-home-mums aren't so uncommon, you'd expect one or two school friends to have started a family by the age of twenty-seven. But then again, how realistic is it to have nearly everyone move back to Sweet Valley? Especially people who have graduated from university and are trying to pursue a career?

As for the Liz/Todd/Jess storyline, it came of well in some places and not so in others. I could buy Todd and Liz not ending up together because even I remember them being on-again/off-again for the entire franchise. I wasn't so sure about Jess falling for Todd, but I liked the fact that even ten years later, the sisters are still fighting over a guy. As for Liz and Bruce getting together, it was a nice idea but it happened so quickly and didn't have enough build up or hinting towards it. I kind of wished she got together with the playwright from New York, but I guess Pascal wanted her to end up with someone from Sweet Valley. Also, the sex scene at the end was horrible. I walked into my bedroom one day to find my fiancé sheepishly looking through my copy of SVC, saying "I was looking for sex scenes. I only found one and it was awful," and I was inclined to agree with him. Please, even Mills and Boon have less cheesy sex scenes.

It's hard to describe how I feel about this book. It was a fun escape back into my childhood, and I'm looking forward to reading some of the original books. I'll admit that this book was pretty awful, but I did really enjoy reading it, so I'm going to give it 7/10. I think I set the bar on my expectations really low, so my surprise at how much fun I had reading this bumps up my rating.

1 comment:

  1. Yup. I think the drugs affected you! You know my thoughts on this dirge............;)