Monday, March 28, 2011

Where Are They Now: Elizabeth and Jessica Wakefield of "Sweet Valley High" Edition...

Whatever happened to those seemingly perfect Sweet Valley California blonde twins, who even through stealing each other's boyfriends, rivalries, moves, weight issues, and even comas, managed to convince those of us tagging along on their adventures like dull but wide-eyed little sisters that they had the best lives ever? No, I'm not talking about the Daniel twins who portrayed Elizabeth and Jessica Wakefield in the mid-nineties television adaptation of the oh-so-popular young adult book series. But Elizabeth and Jessica themselves, the characters by which we-- or at least I-- grew up enamored, dreaming of a sunnier, more eventful life, as well. Sometimes as I would scroll through Amazon or scan the shelves at my local Barnes & Noble, trying to find even one book written for adults that would capture my attention and demand devouring the way the series of my youth did, I would often wonder what happened after the "Sweet Valley High" graduation caps were tossed in the air. And I guess I wasn't alone in my questionings because Francine Pascal, the author and creator of the girls and the series has offered a new book that catapults the girls into the here and now. New generations have been seeing them stuck in adolescence for decades as hundreds of ghostwritten volumes and spin-offs were churned out, but now "Sweet Valley Confidential" actually showcases the women they have become-- women who you will come to find still haven't matured past many of the problems from which they have always seemed to suffer.
"Sweet Valley Confidential" takes Elizabeth and Jessica Wakefield ten years in the future from last we saw them in the original "Sweet Valley High" series. After tumultuous ups and downs, the tension proved to be far too much for them to bear, and they have had a falling out of "epic" proportions that leaves Elizabeth fleeing to New York to try to forget the pain of her sister's betrayal. She reinvents herself as a serious reporter (hmm, maybe this book really was written just for me!), and she manages to create a pretty good-- albeit new-- social circle on the other side of the coast. Still, she's angry, and her anger just festers in the giant hole her sister left in her life.

Once the always "good" twin-- you know, except for that one time she was in a coma and woke up with Jessica's characteristics instead-- Elizabeth decides that this time starting over includes redefining her relationship with her once-closest confidante and friend. And in doing so, she goes right for the jugular: for revenge.

Jessica, meanwhile, is still living a sweet and peaceful life in the community of her upbringing, just trying to put the sins of her past behind her and move forward in a more mature way.

"Sweet Valley Confidential" is very much written for the current "Sweet Valley High" audience in that its tone and pacing and language does not stray from all of the other editions. Pascal capitalized on the voice that made her franchise famous, and well, a franchise to begin with. You can't pick up this book and expect deeply emotional events or flowery, poetic, or otherwise descriptive narration. Those Wakefields were fully formed when we first met them, and though their behaviors and even locations may change through the years, who they are never will. Similarly the style of this book hasn't changed, either: it is written for those who want nostalgia-- to open the cover and be transported back to the simpler times of their own youths.

This of course means it is chick lit at best, and even the central catalyst for the rift between the sisters has been done before. Though now that they are twenty-seven (!), "stealing" one's boyfriend becomes "sleeping with" one's boyfriend. Although I'm not entirely convinced that wasn't what it meant way back when, too... There are cheesy moments; there are silly moments; there are unbelievable moments. It is escapism, not high-art, just what we have come to know and expect and even love from the series after all of this time. It is a simple story with a predictable ending, but there is some maturity to the Wakefields that arises within. The melodrama of their past certainly caused Elizabeth to regress and react so hastily with this new "earthquake" in her life, but when you really stand back and look at them, they aren't nearly as flawed as they could have been-- or even as I might have expected from today's "over the top shock" style story-telling. They are still struggling to be good sisters, friends, women, but aren't we all?

"Sweet Valley Confidential"
now certainly has me considering what the lives of the "Babysitter's Club" look like!

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