(At I Was A Teenage Book Geek, Tuesdays are for time travel. Every week, I’ll delve into the YA bookshelves of years gone by and review a book that most definitely isn’t a new release. It might not even be a recent release. It might be five years old, or ten, or twenty. So that’s the deal: I’ll read it, and let you know whether I think it’s worth you reading it too. The book won’t necessarily be about time travel. Although it might be.)
The summer after I turned eleven, a strange thing happened. I left primary school in July, a somewhat shy and studious kid with a subscription to Horse and Pony magazine who could never quite manage to keep her fringe out of her eyes. In September I started senior school a different girl: salon haircut, mascara, determined to be outgoing if it killed me. This is what I like to call ‘the Jessica Wakefield effect’.
See, over the summer holiday, I’d discovered Sweet Valley High. From the first page, I was hooked. The Californian setting, the beautiful Wakefield twins, the cheesy cover artwork… What, quite frankly, wasn’t to love about it? Just one thing troubled me. Elizabeth, studious and shy - the good twin. Jessica, irresponsible and flirtatious - and a hundred and thirty seven times more fun. Together, they were awesome. But I wasn’t a twin. Studious and shy? That was me. I was an Elizabeth. And even at eleven, I could work out that Elizabeth without a Jessica was… well, Enid Rollins. And who wanted to be her? Not me. When I got to high school, I was going have fun. (Paste obligatory eighties makeover montage here).
As it turned out, I barely needed to reread the first three pages of Double Love, which basically go like the first three pages of any SVH book: Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield are identical twins, with blonde hair, eyes the colour of the Pacific Ocean, and perfect size 6 figures (take that, size zero enthusiasts!) but their personalities are oh-so-different. Then the plot kicks in. Elizabeth is in unrequited love with Todd Wilkins, the star of Sweet Valley High’s basketball team. Jessica thinks he’s pretty hot too, so decides to work a little mischief (read: sacrifice all sense of personal dignity) to snag him for herself. So far, so nostalgic. But on page 129, tragedy strikes.
Not for the characters: for me. When Todd gives Jessica the brush-off, she’s so incensed, she tells Liz he jumped her. Did I read that right? Here’s Jessica Wakefield, my own personal role-model, getting revenge on a guy by pretending she had to literally fight him off. Uh, I don’t know about Sweet Valley, but where I come from that's called Jessica making a false accusation of assault. Lucky for Todd, that doesn’t seem to be a crime in Sweet Valley, because Liz chooses to punish him for the alleged crime by snapping at him when he talks to her. So that’s alright then. Except, it really isn’t.
I was prepared not to adore Double Love as much this time round. I was prepared for dubious gender stereotyping, conveyor-belt storylining, and saccharine romance. Hey, that's what I was hoping for. What I wasn’t prepared for was the biggest shocker of all: Jessica Wakefield is not cool. Not even in a post-modern ironic kind of a way. And despite how fun the rest of it is, I can't get past that.
Verdict: For the second week running, I’ve trashed my own teenage memories. Sometimes life’s like that. However, I also heard recently that Diablo Cody, writer of Juno, is going to be penning the script for the upcoming silver screen version of SVH. Suprisingly, I’m still excited. So here’s the thing, folks, and this may be the last time I ever write the following words: if you haven’t read this book yet, do yourself a favour and wait for the movie. Or, you know, skip straight to book #2, Secrets. I haven't read it for a while, but I remember it being awesome.