The time has come - 2018 is the year I'm rereading the Sweet Valley High books!
This series of books is hugely important to me. Although I was a voracious reader prior to discovering Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield (with mainly Enid Blyton and Roald Dahl satiating my appetite), once I started the Sweet Valley books I was a goner. I don't even remember how I first came across them, because I thought it was through my slightly-older cousin, but she says she got into them through me. One thing I am sure of is that I was reading both the Sweet Valley Twins and Sweet Valley High books by the time I was eleven and was still reading them when I was fifteen. Mostly I bought second hand copies from charity shops and car boot sales, but any money I had for birthdays or Christmases went on these books. I also spent a lot of my summer holidays hiding in a corner of Monmouth's WHSmiths craftily reading any instalment I'd missed out on.
The books were addictive, and combined the two major interests of pre-teen me - books and soap operas. Essentially, Sweet Valley was Erinsborough and Summer Bay rolled into one, but in America instead of Australia, and the plotlines of the books made anything Scott, Charlene and Henry got up to look positively tame.
When I left home and decluttered my bedroom, I passed my Sweet Valley collection back to the charity shops they'd originally come from. What an idiotic move! Now I'm not only having to recollect them all, but some of the copies I'm ending up with have ghastly updated TV tie-in covers (bleurgh).
There's a lot of nostalgia for these books, as I've found through listening to podcasts such as Double Love, Sweet Valley Why, Sweet Valley Diaries, Sweet Valley Online and Sweet Teen Club. There's also oodles of love for them on Twitter, which is why I've started the #SVHReadalong hashtag for anyone who wants to join in and reread the series alongside me.
The first book, Double Love, introduces the dazzlingly beautiful Wakefield twins in all their blonde, blue-green eyed glory. Perfectly identical in looks but for one mole and the fact Jessica never wears a watch (although the illustrators and casting directors seem to miss the 'perfectly identical' thing - they're easily distinguishable in every visual representation), their personalities couldn't be more different. Elizabeth is studious and sensible whereas Jessica is flighty and part of the cool crowd, although their behaviour in this and future books proves neither of them have enviable personalities/characters.
In brief, Double Love is about Jessica trying to get with hunky star of the school basketball team Todd Wilkins, the only boy Elizabeth likes. The book sets the path for the series as a whole - Jessica, shocked that Todd ignores her advances, gets in a car with the first male to show her any attention - dangerous, tattooed drop-out Rick Andover. He takes her to Kelly's, the underage drinking joint, and when they get busted and a cop mistakes Jessica for Liz, Jessica doesn't correct him. Elizabeth is cast out by many of her peers who are horrified by her behaviour, including Todd (judgemental, much?) When, under duress, Jessica admits to Todd it was her at Kelly's he thinks she's taking the flack for her twin and rather than transfer his disgust towards Jessica, he kisses her and invites her to the Phi Epsilon dance. Returning Jessica home after the dance, Todd doesn't make a move on her, so when Liz asks about her twin's night Jessica, humiliated at being rejected, says Todd has 'tried just about everything'. Liz doubts her own judgement of Todd. Only after the dance (which Liz attends with nerdy, fat-phobic geek/clown Winston Egbert) does the truth come out. Rick forces his way into the twins' Fiat Spider, driving them to his favourite haunt Kelly's. Todd chases in his Datsun, and punches Rick in the bar's parking lot. Jessica's lies unravel as she says she never wants to see Kelly's again, which leads Todd to realise Liz really is the one for him and Liz to discover the boy of her dreams isn't a date rapist. Todd and Liz then hatch an elaborate plan for revenge for Jessica to be mistaken for Liz, which ends up with Jessica being thrown in a pool.
Subplots aplenty linger in the background - is the twins' handsome dad Ned having an affair with beautiful colleague Marianna West? Is their brother Steve dating Sweet Valley's resident drug-user Betsy Martin? Who'll win in the battle of the richest between the Patmans and the Fowlers, who both want the school's football field for their own? And what is nerdy Enid Rollins' hiding from her new boyfriend Ronnie?
It's a problematic read - every 'ism' under the sun is perfectly acceptable in sunny Sweet Valley, as is making wild, untrue accusations with very little comeuppance - which shows how far YA literature has come in the thirty-four years since this book was first published, however, I still enjoyed it for what it was and there are some hilarious descriptions and turns of phrase (my favourite probably being Elizabeth describing herself as a 'world-class marshmallow').
I probably read this book more than any other in the series as a teen and only now with the aid of Google do I know what louvered doors, Fiat Spider convertibles and princess phones are. Who knew?