Search This Blog

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Sweet Valley High

All right. So yesterday, I believe that I alienated about half of my audience by doing a feature on “The Babes of Baywatch”.

Well, today's your turn. I'm going to use today's Saturday Smorgasbord to feature a topic that is solely for your eyes only.

But I'll admit...I'm a little apprehensive about today's blog topic because it's on a book series that I have never read. So, I'm hoping that I do this blog entry justice here.

So, this probably leads to the next question that you're likely asking yourselves as you begin today's blog. How then, did you get the inspiration behind this blog entry today if you've never even read one book in the series.

To this, I say, a childhood memory sparked this blog entry.

Everybody remembers their elementary school library periods (unless your school was one of those unlucky ones that never had a school library, that is). In my school's case, the library was kept in the basement of the school. I think I've already talked about the stone walls of the library, the huge, overstuffed sofas where we could read books, and the fact that our school library was one of the only ones that had a gigantic red bathtub in the center of the room where three kids could squeeze inside to flip through the pages of the two books we were allowed to check out.

(God, I miss that bathtub.)

Of course, one thing that I remember vividly about library period were the various types of books that the kids would read. And depending on what gender you were, you had your own distinct preferences.

In my case, I really liked looking at the Guinness Book of World Records, the Garfield collections and treasuries, and Choose Your Own Adventure books. And, I found myself competing with the other boys in the class for claim on those books, as all the other boys seemed to like those books too.

The only difference between me and the other guys in the class was that they were also fighting over sports almanacs and issues of Sports Illustrated magazines – neither of which I was interested in.

Now the girls in my class? Well, let's just say that the Garfield collections were always the toughest books to get in the whole library, as many of them loved the comic strip cat as well. But they also had their own distinct tastes. Many of them liked the series known as “The Baby-Sitters Club”. Many of them flocked towards the many copies of Seventeen Magazine to get beauty tips (even though most of their parents refused to let them wear make-up until they got to high school). And for some reason, I remember there being a book about the television series “Charles in Charge” floating around our school library, and seeing at least every girl in my fifth grade reading that book.

(Keeping in mind that “Charles in Charge” stopped airing new episodes some three years prior to my entering fifth grade.)

But the most popular book series that the girls all flocked towards? Well, that's the subject of today's blog.

The series was created by a woman named Francine Rubin (b. May 13, 1938). A graduate of New York University's Class of '58, Francine fell in love with journalist/author John Pascal, marrying him in 1965. Over the next sixteen years, Francine and John would collaborate together on a series of projects, even writing scripts for a short-lived daytime serial “The Young Marrieds” which ran from 1964-1966. Sadly, Francine would be left a widow following the death of her beloved John in 1981 from lung cancer at the age of 49.

Francine began writing young adult fiction in 1977, following the release of her first novel, “Hangin' Out With CiCi”. The novel achieved a lot of success, and the plot of the story was even made into an ABC Afterschool Special! Some of her other works have included the “Caitlin” trilogy, “The Ruling Class”, and “If Wishes Were Horses”. She and John even wrote a non-fiction book entitled “The Strange Case of Patty Hearst”.

But perhaps her finest creation was a book series whose stars were a pair of identical twin girls. One of the twins was sweet, kind, gentle, and caring. The other twin was selfish, sarcastic, and stuck-up. But despite their different personalities, and despite the different ways that they handled their problems and high school life, they always found a way to stick up for one another when times got too tough.

The twins' names were Elizabeth and Jessica Wakefield. And the high school that they attended was a little school called “Sweet Valley High”.

Sweet Valley High, of course, being the topic of discussion for today.

Now, “Sweet Valley High” was one popular book series back in the day. Debuting in 1983 with the book “Double Love”, the original run of the series ran for one hundred and forty-three books! I don't even know of too many titles that ran for 143 books!

And, that's not all. Did you know that there were an additional twelve “Sweet Valley High” Super Editions that were published between 1985 and 1998?

And, that there were nine Sweet Valley High Super Thriller books?

Not to mention the five adaptations of the Sweet Valley High Super Stars books.

Don't forget the Sweet Valley Twins series of books as well.

Oh yeah...there was also that television series that aired on UPN between 1994 and 1998, starring former Doublemint twins Brittany and Cynthia Daniel and Elizabeth and Jessica respectively.

My god...Francine Pascal must have been exhausted! Or...WAS she?

Okay, okay. Here's the confession. Francine didn't actually write all those books. Rather, she hired a team of ghostwriters to do the work for her. That's not to say that she just sat back and collected the money for work that other people did. She supervised every single manuscript, ensuring that all of her characters were written in character, and that the plot lines made sense. And to Francine's credit, she did write quite a few books herself.

As for what Sweet Valley High was all about? Well, I suppose that you could say that it was kind of like “Beverly Hills 90210”, only instead of fraternal Brandon and Brenda Walsh, you had the Wakefield twins. And the storylines within the pages of the Sweet Valley High series started off innocently enough. Jessica and Elizabeth fighting over the same boy, rumours being spread over school, taking on part-time jobs, etc. But as the series progressed, the stories became more soap-opera like. People were being kidnapped. People getting engaged while still in high school. Houses burning down. Families stabbing each other in the back. There are even a couple of deaths towards the end of the series!

This isn't your standard teenage fiction here, folks.

Anyway, I've already talked about Elizabeth and Jessica. Should we now have a discussion about some of their friends? I bet some of you are watching this blog closely, wondering if I am going to do a good job with the character descriptions. All I can say is that I'll try my best.

TODD WILKINS: Todd is more or less your “Archie”, while Elizabeth and Jessica are the “Betty and Veronica” of the equation. Elizabeth likes Todd. Jessica, seeing that Elizabeth likes Todd decides that she also likes Todd too. Todd, meanwhile, can't seem to make up his mind at first, but eventually chooses Elizabeth. But the course of true love never runs smoothly, and they have the ultimate on-again/off-again relationship, plagued by both of them cheating on each other. Todd then decides to go after Jessica. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. But Todd also is a very good athlete, has a slight speech impediment, and excels in creative writing.

ENID ROLLINS: The Barenaked Ladies song says it all. “Enid, we never really knew each other anyway”. And that certainly holds true for Enid, who seems to have a complete personality transplant towards the end of the series. But when we first are introduced to Enid, she's Elizabeth's best friend and biggest supporter. She just has one major flaw. She has an addiction to drugs and alcohol, which got her into a lot of trouble. After she gets into a car accident, she cleans up her act and stops abusing drugs for a little while. But after she joins a snobby sorority, she falls off the wagon, starts abusing drugs again, and actually embarks on an affair with Todd while he's seeing Elizabeth. This pretty much destroys the friendship between Elizabeth and Enid, and makes Todd look like an even bigger jerk than we all thought.

LILA FOWLER: While Elizabeth and Enid were bonding together, Jessica had a best friend of her own in Lila Fowler...though sometimes you'd never know it as Lila and Jessica would often try to one-up each other when it came to any sort of competition be it with boys, or getting higher grades, or landing a job. Lila's family is one of the wealthiest in Sweet Valley, and Lila's parents and the Wakefield parents were best friends. Although Jessica and Lila hung out together, Elizabeth did have some respect for her. And while Lila was seen as a largely unsympathetic character, some instances in her personal life (including almost being raped) helped her become more likeable.

WINSTON EGBERT: Winston's ultimate fate at the end of the Sweet Valley series is so tragic and terrible that I don't really want to talk about it. But at the very beginning of the series, he could easily be considered the nerdy class clown of the bunch. He was always playing jokes on people, and he always came up with some rather interesting schemes that often blew up in his face. He was friendly with Elizabeth and Enid, but had a huge crush on Jessica...a crush that never really amounted to anything.

BRUCE PATMAN: Bruce Patman's family is also a wealthy family in Sweet Valley, and the Patman family happens to have some history with the Wakefields. Jessica and Elizabeth's mother was once engaged to be married to the man who would become Bruce's father! Obviously, the wedding never happened. Bruce once dated Jessica, and even developed feelings for Elizabeth, making their connection even more unusual. In the book, Bruce had to deal with the death of his parents, as well as the accidental death of his girlfriend, Regina.

STEVEN WAKEFIELD: He's actually the older brother of Elizabeth and Jessica, and while he tends to favour Elizabeth over Jessica, he is also the one who probably understands Jessica more than anyone else in the Wakefield home. He does become an attorney and gets married sometime during the series...but he's holding a rather deep secret...and when it is revealed, everything blows apart in a way that he never expected.

So, that's our look back on “Sweet Valley High”. Ladies...did I do this blog justice?

No comments:

Post a Comment