By the time Sweet Valley Twins was published in the UK, I'd already read my first Sweet Valley High book. At first, I resisted this new series about the legendary Wakefield twins, convinced I was far too mature and sophisticated to read a book about a pair of twelve year olds. How old was I? Well, now you mention it, around twelve. But mature and sophisticated for my age, obviously. Except that by 'mature' and 'sophisticated' I mean 'dorky' and 'deluded'.
Talking of Dorky and Deluded (and by that I mean Elizabeth and Jessica, respectively) it wasn't long before my Sweet Valley addiction got too much. I caved. I'd read every SVH book out there and when my little sister borrowed Best Friends from the library, I figured I'd just take a little peek. Y'know, just to prove how beneath me it was. Ooops. Before I knew it, an hour had elapsed and I was halfway through the book. Because the Wakefield twins? Just as cool at twelve as they were at sixteen. In fact, cooler, because as the cover art shows they actually look their age in this series instead of thirty-five with Mom hairstyles, like on the covers of my Sweet Valley High books.
In fact, I enjoyed my first Sweet Valley Twins book so much that I actually lowered my great literary standards for long enough to follow the series for the next few years. Okay, it was probably closer to four years, but only because my sister was buying. Imagine our shared glee when we'd go on holiday to Florida in the summer and be able to stock up on all the Sweet Valley books that hadn't been released in the UK yet. Imagine our smugness arriving back to the UK with suitcases full of the latest Sweet Valley novels alongside Fear Street, Point Horror and, uh, Minnie Mouse ears. I know: losers!
So here's the shocker: I reread Best Friends this week and I didn't hate it.
Yes, you heard me right. Best Friends is actually an entertaining little read about the Wakefield twins realising for the first time that they need to have their own identities. In the story, Elizabeth and Jessica have recently started Sweet Valley Junior High. Elizabeth has permission to start a school newspaper, and Jessica has attracted the attention of SVJH's answer to Mean Girls, a.k.a. The Unicorns. Being shallow and elitist, Jessica is desperate to join. So desperate, in fact, that she goes along with their lame-o version of hazing, which involves stealing a teacher's lesson plan book and then... well, merely putting it back. Which is pointless, and tells me that The Unicorns wouldn't have lasted five minutes at my high school.
Meanwhile, Dorky Elizabeth is feeling left out by Jessica's attempt to hang with the in-crowd. And nothing makes Liz feel worse than when Jessica changes her image and doesn't want to dress alike anymore. Nothing, that is, until the Unicorns offer Elizabeth a chance to join... on the condition that she tricks Lois, an unpopular classmate, into eating shaving foam. Our Liz is obviously reluctant to go there, being the nice twin, so Jessica decides that she will pretend to be her twin and do the deed herself. Because they're like, identical. Duh.
Naturally, Jessica's little plan backfires. Because this is the world of Sweet Valley, where Jessica Wakefield basically just exists to screw up and make Elizabeth look good. After realising what Jessica did, Elizabeth manages to blackmail her into apologising to Lois, because whilst lying is a bad thing, the world of Sweet Valley has no problem with blackmail (as long as it's Elizabeth doing it). And some good even comes out of the situation, as Elizabeth is finally able to come to terms with the fact that she and Jessica are different people with different hobbies and interests.
See? This book even has a poignant and worthwhile message. But only if you count 'hypocrisy' and 'being a biatch' as hobbies.
Verdict: The truth is, Sweet Valley books were never the finest example of fiction for tweens and teens. However, they sure did something right. With literally hundreds of titles across several series, these books were hugely popular once upon a time. They were formulaic, but the formula worked. This was fun, lighthearted fluff in the eighties, and that's what it is now.