Monday, February 1, 2010

Welcome to the SV, bitch!

Tagline: "Share the continuing story of the Wakefield twins and their friends--their laughter, heartaches, and dreams." And cocaine overdoses. And brushes with death. And all around-shenanigans! Can't wait!

I love the Sweet Valley High series so much, y'all. You remember when that book came out, Everything I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten? Well, everything I need to know I learned from Sweet Valley. If you're shipwrecked? You can use your fourteen-karat bracelet to signal a plane! Also I learned that fat girls can be popular if they just become anorexics and lose a lot of weight. And if someone has a scar, they are probably a murderer. Are you taking notes? You should be writing this down. Because it will all come in handy in your life, trust me.

Before we get started, you need to meet Elizabeth and Jessica Wakefield, who will be our guides on this important journey, like Beatrice was for Dante. Liz and Jess are sixteen-year-old girls who live in Sweet Valley, California, and they are identical twins! They have "the same shoulder-length, sun-streaked blond hair, the same sparkling blue-green eyes, the same perfect skin. Even the tiny dimple in Elizabeth's left cheek was duplicated in her younger sister's--younger by four minutes. Both girls were five feet six on the button and generously blessed with spectacular, All-American good looks. Both wore exactly the same size clothes, but they refused to dress alike, except for the exquisite identical lavelieres they wore on gold chains around their necks." How will you ever learn to tell them apart, you ask? Don't worry! Elizabeth wants to be a writer, so she is always off doing boring writerly things. She's also very nosy, and wears a wristwatch. Jessica is an evil, boyfriend-stealing ho, and behaves accordingly. There's very little overlap between the two. (If you're trying to judge by the cover, Elizabeth is the prissy-looking one in white; Jessica is the one with the crazy eyes and Donald Trump bangs.)

Do you know how people say there are only seven original plots in the world? Well, in Sweet Valley, there are more like five. This very first book in the series is a variation on the most recurrent one: Elizabeth realizes she is boring and put upon, and rebels in some quiet way, before going back to her old boring habits. In this case she's blue because has a secret crush on Todd Wilkins, but Jessica likes him too, oh no! Elizabeth tries to make a move, but before she can, Jessica does, and she's more interesting and doesn't part her bangs down the middle and Liz has missed her chance. The whole school is talking about how the captain of the basketball team and the co-captain of the cheerleading squad are an item!

But Jessica isn't a one-man kind of woman, and before you know it, she's allowed bad-boy Rick Andover (who is a dropout, OMG) to take her to Kelly's roadhouse for a beer. I love the early books in this series, because they are all for ages twelve and up, and all contain mention of booze, drugs, and sex. Rick acts like a total creep to Jessica, and she ends up getting busted by a cop, who drives her home, and mistakenly calls her Elizabeth as he drops her off. Caroline Pearce, the school gossip, hears this and the next day at school everybody thinks it was Elizabeth who was out drinking with Rick. Elizabeth is upset by this, not because her teachers and her friends and her parents might hear and get mad at her, but because now Todd might think she's a floozy. Which he does. Jessica tries to clear up the mixup but Todd thinks she's trying to take the blame for her wayward sister, and asks her to the upcoming school dance, and makes out with her, just as Liz comes out and sees. She has a meltdown: "Liz Wakefield is supposed to be good, sweet, kind, you know what that adds up to? Boring, boring, boring!" And...I can't argue with her, there. Neither can her mother, who just tells Liz that she "understands." Good work, Mom.

B and C plot time! The twins' older brother Steven Wakefield is behaving oddly and Jessica knows he's in love, but she's appalled when she finds out that his new girlfriend is Betsy Martin, who "has been doing drugs for years" and "sleeps around." The twins are crushed. It will "ruin" the Wakefields, Jessica wails, to be associated with a family like the Martins. Which is a bit rich coming from an underage girl who was at Kelly's with Rick Andover less than 24 hours before. I'm just saying, it's not such a huge leap. And then the twins realize that their father, an attorney, has been working late and talking a lot about his colleague, Marianna West, lately. This could just mean he's, you know, busy, but the twins jump to the conclusion that he must be having an affair.

Time for the dance! Jess is going with Todd, and Elizabeth is going with Winston Egbert, whose name should tell you all you need to know about him. Jessica notices, at the dance, that Todd can't take his eyes off of Elizabeth, and she's pissed, so when she gets home, she tells Elizabeth that it's over with Todd, because he tried to molest her, which is a pretty serious accusation, and could ruin Todd's life. Elizabeth is duly appalled. When Todd calls to try to say he likes her, she shuts him down because she thinks he's a perv.

It turns out that Steven wasn't actually dating Betsy Martin--he was dating Betsy's sister, Tricia. Dating because apparently rampant snobbery runs in families. He was kind of critical of Tricia's family and she called him out on it and dumped him. Steven is upset, but his parents and his sisters counsel him to go and tell Tricia that he loves her. He drives over to her "saggy-roofed ranch house,"--that's how you know the Martins are really bad, because they don't have enough money to keep their house up nice, like GOD--and Tricia takes him back, but if it were me? I'd still be pissed he was a dick about my family.

There's some bullshit rigmarole with a court case involving the school football field--Lila Fowler's rich dad wants to build a factory on it--but it's really just contrivance so that Liz and Jess can go downtown and see their father at trial with Marianna West. They are chagrined--CHAGRINED--to see Ned "being so attentive [to Marianna], leaning over with his head next to hers, whispering heaven knows what into her ear!" LIKE THINGS ABOUT THE CASE? Have these girls never seen a courtroom drama? Do they think that he is propositioning her, there, in the courtroom? After they win the court case, Mr. Wakefield invites Marianna home for dinner, and reveals that the reason he's been working late is because he was trying to help her get a promotion. And I wasn't before, but now I'm suspicious, because that sounds like the lamest, most half-assed excuse ever. If my husband said something like that to me, I'd start smashing his shit with his golf clubs, Elin-Woods style, but the twins--and their mother--just toast Marianna on her new job!

The next day, Liz and Jess are driving home from school, and nasty Rick Andover is chasing their Fiat in a stolen car. They stop at a light and he totally carjacks them, and drives them to Kelly's. Todd Wilkins sees them go by and catches sight of Elizabeth's terrified face, and it's Todd to the rescue! He saves them, and Elizabeth and Todd have a moment, and Elizabeth confesses that she's liked Todd all along, and Todd confesses that he didn't try to rape Jessica. The tone in their conversation is all laughy like, "That Jessica and her antics!" but if I were Todd I'd be really, really angry and probably not willing to get involved with the sister of a girl who tried to get me sent to federal pound-me-in-the-ass prison for twenty-five and change. Todd and Liz just laugh it off, and decide that Jessica needs to be put in her place. Again, if it were me, I'd try to push her into therapy, but they decide on something else.

Which is this: you see, Liz has been writing the Eyes and Ears gossip column for the SVH newspaper, The Oracle, and it's been a secret, but it's all going to be revealed at a pool party in a few days time. Liz decides that she will pull a twin switch, and loans Jessica some clothes, so that people will think Jess is Liz and throw Jess into the pool! Which will certainly teach her an important lesson about falsely accusing people of sexual assault. All's well that ends well!

What they wore: I just pressed my best jeans today and my blue button down shirt that you've been dying to borrow, Elizabeth tells Jessica, and LOL, she irons her jeans, but also here we are confronted for the first time with the Sweet Valley High Paradox, which is that if Elizabeth is so boring, and you can tell she's boring from the clothes she wears, why would Jessica want to borrow them all the time? And that is a particularly dull Elizabeth outfit. At the beginning of the series, Francine Pascal hadn't so much set in stone that Elizabeth's uniform consists solely of Bermuda shorts and polo shirts and barettes, but there's still no explanation as to why Liz would own a "tuxedo shirt...and the pants...and the little bow tie" to go along with it. Because that is a snazzy outfit, and besides one or two of Olivia Davidson's craziest ensembles, probably the best outfit that occurs in this series, ever.

Jessica, on the other hand, is full of fashion fail in this book. For her date with Rick Andover at Kelly's, she took the trouble to curl her hair and put on her sexiest red blouse. So far, so good. As a natural curly-haired person, I will never understand why anybody with straight hair would want to inflict that on themselves, but the red shirt was a good choice. But then Jess borrowed her sister's (there we go again!) brand-new black sandal heels to go with her black silk jersey skirt. I am a big fan of silk jersey, because it can be dressed up, or down, but do you know what it is never appropriate for? Underage binge-drinking at a sleazy roadhouse. Nice, Jess. You're going to look like a hooker for sure.

For the dance, Elizabeth's dress actually sounds kind of pretty: the white strapless dress was perfect with her tanned skin and blond hair. Jessica's dress is blue and slinky, with a handkerchief hemline, spaghetti straps, and a neckline so low Todd will be panting! Now I like blue. As a brown-eyed brunette, probably not as much as the next person. And I like low necklines, because I am a big-boobed girl, myself, and I believe in smoking if you got 'em. A handkerchief hemline I am willing to give a pass on, because it's 1984, here, but spaghetti straps? They're gross. They're so skinny and...there. Like string over your shoulders. And it's hard to wear a regular bra with them, but that could just be me, because of the boobs, and now you all know far too much about my chest area so I'll stop talking about it. But do you know who wears spaghetti straps? That girl from your high school who was in Crossroads and was "modest" and wore a promise ring, and was a "virgin" because she didn't sleep with guys, but she did absolutely everything else. People are afraid to go strapless because they think it's trashy, but it can be tasteful, and it's better than spaghetti straps! I promise!!

My point? I just want to point out that it is rare when I covet anything belonging to Elizabeth over Jessica. And I also want to point out that Steven Wakefield comes in while Jess is describing the plunging neckline that will "make Todd pant" and instead of saying "Jesus God, gross me out," he says, "As a man, I feel sorry for the intended victim." Which is really creepy, and not the last time Steven makes a vaguely sexual comment like that to his sisters.

Ugh. I need to get this awful taste out of my mouth. OK. That wicked homewrecker Marianna West is "looking positively radiant in an ice-blue suit." I cannot condone an ice-blue suit because I am a law student, and I know that suits come in black and gray and navy and THAT IS ALL, but I am positively shocked that the ghostwriter refrained from having Ms. West show up in court with ripped fishnets, red high heels, and a cigarette in a long ivory holder, that she smokes while stroking her Dalmation-pelt fur coat and cackling, "I'll have you, Ned Wakefield! WHERE ARE THOSE PUPPIES?" I'm just saying, points for restraint.


  1. Spaghetti straps are awesome for Sweet Valley! i just read one of the books from the upper numbers, somewhere around #70 and they were STILL wearing spaghetti straps!

  2. Spaghetti straps are a theme, le sigh.

  3. Great recap! Love your website.

  4. I love your blog--it is so hilarious and brings back so many memories.

  5. I actually had one of those tuxedo shirt/bow tie outfits back in 1983. Half of our fashion choices then--so, accordingly, most of SVH's--looked like were based on Hall & Oates videos or something. Actually, they prolly were....

    (I love the word "actually." It's sooo British. I should use it more often.)