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Sweet Valley High series,

A young adult book series created in 1983 by Francine Pascal

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SVH: Pure Teen Girl Escapism Through the Decades

  • Mar 15, 2009
  • by
Rating:
+3
I started reading the Sweet Valley High series when I was in junior high. My mom didn't approve of that kind of literature, so I bought the books on the sly and kept them in the back of my bookcase. They were probably my first guilty pleasure. The stories took place in a picture-perfect town, with picture-perfect people and stories that ended, well, in a picture-perfect way. Basically, the series covered the adventures of a pair of beautiful blonde teenage twin girls and their high school friends. Heck, these kids didn't even age. By the time I had graduated from high school they were STILL juniors.
 
Of course by then they'd started a myriad of spinoff titles, from Sweet Valley University to Sweet Valley Twins. There are so many at this point I couldn't list them all. A few years ago I started collecting the series on eBay just to see if I could do it, and now am the (proud?) owner of the entire SVH series from the first book on. But there's no way I could have collected every series the world of Sweet Valley spawned, from Sweet Valley Kids to Sweet Valley Junior High (don't ask me why they switched from middle school in Sweet Valley Twins to suddenly going to junior high school). The books ended in the early 2000s, I believe, with the release of a six-book series based on Elizabeth's adventures as a servant in London.

Between book one and about book 90something the series is more innocent--every story is finished in one 115-page volume and there's very little that's fantastic or unrealistic from the standpoint of a normal teenage kid's life. Then, to keep up with the times (we were in the 1990s by now) the stories got racier, longer, more soap-opera like and more ridiculous than ever. For example, by the time the books numbered into the hundreds the studious Elizabeth had become a cheerleader (just to help her twin sister's squad out, but apparently she was suddenly able to do cartwheels and all sorts of gymnastics, and so was the entire cheerleading squad). There were evil twins--er, I mean triplets--running around, people cheating on one another and clique riots and did I mention the earthquake that happened on the twins' birthday at the end of their decades-long junior year, killing a favorite character?
 
It was like going from reading the local community paper to reading Star Magazine for all your news. For parents today who might want to buy the series for their daughters (you can often find books from the series on eBay or at book fairs and used book library sales), the earlier novels are perfect to combat the more materialistic teen novels of today's society. The girls are well-grounded compared to many of today's popular--and usually wealthy--heroines, like in "The A-List" or "The Clique." They don't get their own car for some time, they know how to change their own tires, they do chores and schoolwork (or at least Elizabeth does), and their values and morals are beyond reproach. They do not have sex, nor is there any sexual content other than a little rare, relatively innocent touchy-feely stuff. Jessica is more of a firebrand and less sensible than her sister, but she's still a normal teenager with normal problems. And the stories are fun and light and about as silly as most teen-geared stories are.

Personally I think the later stories aren't worth reading. They start to glamorize the girls, putting them in unrealistic situations, like the three-book story with a prince falling in love with Elizabeth. If I remember correctly, she gets put in the dungeon. And after a while, it's easy to start repeating stories and get continuity messed up--especially with multiple authors, which SVH definitely utilized. For example, there were at least two stories in which the twins' brother, Steven, gets involved with a girl who looks like his dead girlfriend, thus hurting his current girlfriend. As another example: just by virtue of how long the series ran, Elizabeth, the "good" twin, has a tally of boyfriends that would make a prostitute look virtuous. In the first 90 books or so, she dated just two boys, although if you count amnesia and breakups and misunderstandings the number is probably closer to 10. I'm not going to try to count them here--but remember, this is all in one school year! If you add the last 40 or so books, the tally becomes ridiculous.

You can absolutely see the influence of culture on the series, and it's actually an interesting sociological study to note what the series was like initially compared to later. First, it added some horror-based specials during the period where R.L. Stine and Lois Duncan were popular. Then, it got a little bit racier. Then, it lost all credibility. The girls continued to get updated, too (in book one, they were using cassette tapes--in the final books they had CD players). Interestingly, it might be said that SVH, despite its long run, was not so much an influence on other teen books as it was the receptacle of influences. If the series had not ended when it did, I'm sure the latest SVH incarnations would have found themselves invaded with a bevy of super-attractive vampires or everyone in town will have moved to Hollywood or something. I find that part of it fascinating, and it's probably why I still have all the books.

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March 15, 2009
It was probably closer to book 100--you can see the difference in the covers and sudden appearance of all these 3-book miniseries. I mean the series tended to sensationalism already--you could see it in the later books starting in the 60s, like when the Wakefields almost got divorced. But wow, it just went downhill.

The last series was called simply "Elizabeth." Unfortunately I can't name you the six books in the series, since my copies are all in storage. I found it a little silly to think that Elizabeth somehow failed to mail in her acceptance to Oxford and ended up playing the servant in the home of a titled British family (she and Jessica had a major SVU falling out). There was a lot of class stuff in it, like, "Oh you can't be with the scullery maid Elizabeth because you're a duke" or some nonsense of the sort. I found that a bit off-putting too--why would Elizabeth, an American who doesn't care about such distinctions, find herself cowed by something like that?
 
March 15, 2009
Oh my god, I think you just wrote THE history of Sweet Valley High! This is amazingly insightful, and I can see what you mean about the progression towards sensationalist plotlines and drama, though I had no idea that the change happened at around book 90. Out of all the Sweet Valley series, my favorite was Sweet Valley Twins, but Sweet Valley High was definitely the trademark series of them all. What's the name of the six-part series where Elizabeth goes to England? Inquiring minds need to know!
 
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More Sweet Valley High reviews
Quick Tip by . July 11, 2010
These were some of my favorite books growing up. They were quite entertaining. I loved Sweet Valley High so much that my mom subscribed to a book club and I got 2 new Sweet Valley books a month. I would devour both books in three days and be waiting eagerly for the next month's books.
Quick Tip by . July 03, 2010
Not as good as the Baby Sitters Club!
Quick Tip by . July 02, 2010
Seeing this series listed brought a smile to my face. I spent plenty of time reading through this series as a teenager.
Quick Tip by . July 01, 2010
Another series I can't believe I actually read
Quick Tip by . June 30, 2010
Oh my gosh! I haven't thought about these books in years. They were always a bit on the weepy side for me. Someone broke up with him to be with her and this and that. Entertaining when you're young and seeing it played out in school yards and hallways. Not so much when you are an adult or at least you pretend to be.
Quick Tip by . June 30, 2010
it was interesting I read this in my "younger" days
Quick Tip by . June 23, 2010
I enjoyed these as a young adult. Not meaningful but stimulating.
Quick Tip by . June 21, 2010
fun but lacked real depth, plot. all pretty much the same
Quick Tip by . June 19, 2010
I think these were fun reading growing up. Deal with a lot of issues young teens deal with.
Quick Tip by . June 16, 2010
These are pretty cheesy
About the reviewer
Helen Lee Reid ()
Ranked #369
I am a part-time freelance writer and full-time mother living in the Chicago suburbs. My life is fairly boring by hipster standards, as it consists mainly of avoiding the grocery store, cleaning up after … more
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Sweet Valley High is a book series created by Francine Pascal, who presided over a team of ghostwriters for the duration of the series' creation in 1983. The series ended twenty years later with over 152 books to its name. Over the years, the books were written by many ghostwriters (including Emmy-award winning screenwriter Rodney Vaccaro), and revolved around the lives of teenagers Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield, twins who live in Sweet Valley, California. The series quickly gained popularity and spawned several spin-off series. The last Sweet Valley book, Sweet Valley University, was published in January 2003. The books are generally classified as young adult or kids' fiction.
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Young Adult Fiction, Sweet Valley High, Wakefield Twins, Francine Pascal

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