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A Confidential Message: We Read The New Sweet Valley Book!

Erin reviews Sweet Valley Confidential by Francine Pascal and discovers what the Wakefield sisters are up to ten years later.

A Confidential Message: We Read The New Sweet Valley Book!

Here are some things I didn't do this week:

I didn't enter into a ridiculous internet war with someone who gave my self-published book a negative review. Partly I didn't do this because I have never published any book, by myself or with the aid of an actual publishing house. But mostly I didn't do it because I am not, in fact, BATSHIT INSANE.

I also didn't write snarky tweets on FYA's Twitter account (@4everYA, for those of you not in the know), making fun of all the INSANE HAND-WRINGING TWEETS that filled our @replies when we mentioned that we had our hands on the Hunger Games movie script. YOU GUYS. Did you know that if we spoil the Hunger Games movie, Lionsgate will personally come to our door to behead us, and also BABIES WILL SPONTANEOUSLY DIE? I didn't either, but it's totally true, according to Twitter. I thought I should tweet: "Read HG script; everyone dies but the cat" but I didn't want to kill any babies spontaneously. (Or, like, deliberately! I pretty much don't want to kill babies, full stop. Wellll, I guess it depends on what you consider a baby, actually. You know what? Let's just move on.)

I also didn't win the lottery and therefore, when I was greeted at 7:30 am by someone crying on the phone because they felt I wasn't putting enough effort into singling them out amongst the 200 people I directly work with, I was unable to say what I wanted to say, which was, "Cowboy up, pussy, and, by the way, I quit." Alas.

But here are some things I did do!

I had a very tall daiquiri at the airport bar today!

I sent the following text message: "bee tee dubs, I am wearing sweatpants and will be traveling for 24 hours straight. Adjust hotness expectation levels accordingly."

I wrote my first FYA post from a plane and then finished it in Germany, where I've never been. (This post! Also, GUTTENTAG UND WILKOMMEN. This is the German I know now!)

Oh, and, also, I got this book in the mail. You may have heard of it; it's called Sweet Valley Confidential: 10 Years Later.

Seriously, as I'm writing this, a posh German dude is looking askance at my book cover. I'm not too worried; it's just some photos of blondes on the cover, and I hear they like blonde-haired people in Germany. (Okay, that's my only Aryan race joke of this entire post. PROBABLY.)

To be honest, guys, I'm confused about how to review this book. Part of me thinks, "It's an actual book! Sent to you for review by the publisher! You owe it to this book to review it in the classic book report style!" But then another part of me says, "But you've built up a style with Sweet Valley; you can't deviate!" The third part of me says, "Yay! Lufthansa has a nice Reisling, and it's free!!"

So I think I am going to marry the two styles, and thus, I offer to you: The Sweet Valley Confidential Book Report/Drinking Game/FREE WINE.

BOOK REPORT for Sweet Valley Confidential by ACTUALLY FRANCINE PASCAL FOR THE FIRST TIME EVS

Cover Story: It Gets Better
Bff Charm: Have We Met?
Swoonworthy Scale: 7 Minus 10 Equals Negative 3
Talky Talk: Um, Pascalian?
Bonus Factors: Catching Up With Old Friends, Liz Sucking, Self-Awareness
Anti-Bonus Factors: Emo-ass Shizz, Todd Wilkins, Liz Wakefield
Relationship Status: You Can't Go Home Again

Sweet Valley Confidential: 10 Years Later

In which everyone talks about how much they need Elizabeth in their lives to feel complete

Number of Drinks taken: According to the current drinking rules, only about 14. But I decided that was unacceptable, so I made up a new drinking game (details below), so the official answer is: FREE WINE.

First Page on Which the Twins Are Described As "Blond, All-American," etc: page 9

Main Plot: We'll get into that under "The Deal."

Sub-Plot Not In Least Bit Related To Main Plot: I'm telling you right now, there isn't one. Not a one! NO SUBPLOT AT ALL. I mean, I guess you could take "Liz hates Jessica" as the main plot and then everything else is the sub-plot, but really, everything is sort of tied into the A Storyline. I can only presume that the reason for this is that Francine Pascal actually wrote this book (did you guys know that she had never written a Sweet Valley High book before? She just came up with the concept and, occasionally, the over-arching plots, but she never put pen to page for the books. This partly angers me -- how dare she put her name on the covers? It partly mystifies me -- man, didn't she want to step in and take control when she saw how poorly they were written? Doesn't she want to own her baby?? But mostly it intrigues me -- how the FUCK can I get that sort of deal? I mean, hey, publishers, you want ideas? I can give you ideas. I am working on a story now called Erin And The German Stranger Who Is Reading The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest, But In German. It's about me and the dude sitting next to me on the plane. I only know he's reading that because I glanced over and saw the words "Lisbeth Salander" heading up a paragraph and honestly I'm taking a guess on which book in the series it actually is. But he's near the end so I think Hornet's Nest? Probably? I want to talk to him about it, cause Lisbeth is totes my boo, but at the same time if anyone had interrupted me while I was reading the Milleneum trilogy, I would have cut them with whatever was handy. I'll wait till he puts it down, if he can.

Anyway, trust me, my story idea is FUCKING RIVETING. There would be humor, pathos, edge-of-your-seat action. Option this shizz for a series!) and Francine Pascal don't dig on no sub-plots, man.

But, back to my main point, there's no sub-plot.

Improbable High School Moment: I can't answer that! They're not in high school anymore! HOWEVER. Apparently Francine Pascal needs to CHECK HERSELF before she WRECKS HERSELF, or, I don't know, read this blog, because she has a mention of AJ Morgan feeling up Jessica's tits in the seventh grade! Except you know, and I know, that AJ Morgan JUST SHOWED UP TO SWEET VALLEY LIKE TWO WEEKS AGO. Or, like, Book 47, OR WHATEVER. So, whatever, that isn't related to high school, but it IS improbable, because AJ Morgan was just a young colt in Atlanta, Georgia in the seventh grade! ALSO, she describes him as having sandy hair and WHATEVER HE IS A GINGER, FRANCINE. We all know this.

Most Offensive Portion: Oh, there are SCADS. I mean, I might as well do them in list form.

1.  Everyone hates Jessica, even though Jessica is OBVS the most awesome person in this damn book.

2.  Winston is dead.

3.  I've been forced to think about Aaron Dallas kissing someone.

4.  Nearly THIS ENTIRE BOOK is devoted to Liz's emo bullshit.

5.  People actually care enough about Todd Wilkins to fight over him.

6.  There are endless descriptions of Cara's baked goods (which she creates to get over her depression of Stephen/Steven running around on her, but we'll get to that) and all I've had for sweets is Lufthansa's attempt at tiramisu, which was NOT GOOD. Still. Still. Free wine.

Here are some drinking game rules I made up, just for this book!!

The Sweet Valley Confidential: Ten Years Later Drinking Game

Drink anytime: 

•  You just want to punch Liz

•  Cara bakes something, or someone mentions the fact that Cara bakes

•  You think, "Really? This whole thing is about Todd? Really?"

•  They show a shot of the horsey! . . . oh, sorry. They're playing Secretariat on the plane.

•  Jessica cries.

Take one shot anytime: 

•  You think maybe the relationship between Liz and Jess borders on incestuous?

•  You read the words "Show Survey"

Chug anytime:

•  You read a "flashback entry." Chug until said flashback entry is complete.

Okay, let's do this shit.

SIDE NOTE: I just sneezed, and German Stranger said "Bless You" instead of "Gesundheit." I am dispirited.

Cover story: It Gets Better

This cover doesn't really leave much to the imagination, and I found that even I, an avowed YA convert, was a bit ashamed. Also I don't think that's what lavaliers look like? I thought they were more straight up and down, like a rectangle on a chain? So I totally took this cover off, because I was actually concerned about being judged IN THE AIRPORT for my choice in reading material. To my delight, the book underneath was a slim taupe volume that almost made me look respectable to my German Stranger Neighbor. So, it gets better, Stephen/Steven Wakefield. It gets better.

The Deal:

Oh, man. Hold on to your drinks, ladies and Brian; this is going to be pretty long. In the interest of being me, I'm going to warn you right now: SPOILERS AHEAD. Just like with a regular SVH book, I'm going to detail the whole plot, so if you DON'T WANT TO KNOW, LOOK AWAY. Look far away; look to the babies I'm about to kill spontaneously by writing spoilers on the internet.

Have those who do not want to be spoiled looked away?? Are the rest of you down to get the dish? Hit it, DJ Roomba!

So, Liz is in New York City, writing for a magazine called Show Survey (take a shot), which is like the Zagats guide, but for Off-Broadway shows. Please tell me now: does ANYTHING sound more tedious than that? Yeah, I didn't think so.

Liz moved to New York 8 months ago, which is coincidentally the time she found out that Todd had slept with Jessica. Let's backtrack a bit, shall we?

FIVE YEARS AGO: Liz gets sick with the flu and begs Jessica to accompany Todd to some SVU (Sweet Valley University, not Bensen and Stabler) party. Jessica does, someone mistakes her for Liz, and she and Todd both play along with it. Why? Probably because they're incredibly stupid.

So they get drunk and they sleep together. And then they spend the next month NOT SLEEPING TOGETHER, but rather talking about how guilty and shit they feel. Then they decide to not really speak of it again and make things go back to normal. But I just want to specify: THEY SLEEP TOGETHER ONCE. ONCE. Now, I know that being cheated on sucks balls, but I just again want to say: they sleep together ONCE.

Except, I guess they decide they love each other, but they never mention it. Jessica ends up marrying this rich dude called Regan.

MEANWHILE: Todd and Winston have a falling out (mostly owing to the fact that Winston walked in on Todd and Jess); Winston and Bruce join a dot com venture that both nets them a lot of money; Winston becomes an asshole much in the style of Harry Knowles and no one wants to be his friend anymore; Bruce's parents die and he becomes a changed man and falls in love (secretly!) with Liz, who becomes his best friend; Enid becomes a gynecologist and her natural bitchery rears its ugly head, or maybe that's just the effects of being elbow-deep in vaginas every day?; Lila and Ken Matthews get married and Caroline Pierce gets cancer but doesn't die.

Okay, so back to present day minus eight months: Liz and Todd are living together and making vague plans to get married. Considering they've been dating for approximately 30 years, I sort of want to tell them to shit or get off the pot, but, hey. Marriage is special and you need to do it in your own time, if at all, and blah blah blah.

Jessica leaves her husband, Regan, because he's controlling and jealous and displaying Early Abuser Behavior, and flees home to Sweet Valley to stay with Liz and Todd.

Jessica and Todd mostly try to avoid one another, lest they accidentally wind up putting the P in the V again.

Then Winston dies because he falls off a roof, or something. I don't know. The death of Winston took about two pages and came the way into the book; I had mostly lost interest by then. Everyone is sad but not, I guess? Here Lies Winston; Starch King.

Also and meanwhile, Jessica is all conflicted about her feelings for Todd and her guilt for sleeping with him THAT ONE TIME FIVE YEARS AGO, so she goes to take a walk on the beach (drink! Hey, the twins drive nowhere in their Fiat and Lila doesn't toss her hair dismissively and Winston isn't competitive eating in the Afterlife; we have to take these Old School Drinking Game opportunities where we can get them), and she sees Stephen/Steven there.

So also there's this whole thing about how it's well known that Stephen/Steven is stepping out on his wife, Cara, and everyone is pretty sure he's sticking it in Lila, who is quasi-separated from Ken Matthews.

So Jess sees Stephen/Steven, standing with someone shorter, but when her view is unobstructed, she sees that, actually, it's AARON DALLAS. Yes, Stephen/Steven is the SVH character who comes out. Well, I guess Aaron Dallas also comes out, but that isn't as important. Stephen/Steven has totally been on the DL with Aaron for about two months, and he's pissed that Jessica, and not Elizabeth, caught him. I guess he figures Liz would keep his secret upon pain of death, which she would, but Jessica of course goes right over to Cara and tells her, nicely, that her husband is not too interested in her ladybits. But, you know, not just HER ladybits. All girls' ladybits.

Stephen/Steven and Aaron Dallas both get totally pissed at Jessica (though I don't know what Aaron Dallas is so upset about? Stephen/Steven wasn't ever going to come out without Jessica forcing him), and she cries a lot about that. Jessica pretty much cries throughout the entire book. Jessica's tears could refill Salt Lake City and drown 90% of the world's Mormon population.

Then Regan the errant husband arrives in Sweet Valley and he and Todd get in a fight and then Liz comes home and Regan is all, "Don't you see? They are fucking each other!" and Liz screams and runs away. Though I think it's important to note that Regan's conjugation is all wrong. They had fucked, once. Past participle. Not a gerund.

So that catches us up to the start of the book, miraculously. Liz is in New York and she's still angry and she refuses to talk to Jessica or Todd and she cries a lot after orgasms. She goes to interview this playwrite for Show Survey (take a shot!) and he looks just like Todd, so she is instantly drawn to him in this love/hate sort of way. Will (that's the playwrite) is kind of surly and rude, but then they meet in a bar and decide they like each other.

At this same time, at this same bar, Liz meets Liam, who is totally this hot Irish actor who is, did I mention? Hot. But she decides she likes Will better, cause he looks like Todd.

Let's just review, shall we?

HOT IRISH ACTOR:

TODD:

HOT IRISH ACTOR:

TODD

HOT IRISH ACTOR

TODD.

I rest my case.

Anyway, whatever, Liz and Will have a little flirtation but she is still full of rage and bitterness about the whole Todd/Jessica thing. GET OVER IT LIZ.

Meanwhile, Jessica and Todd are planning to get married, but Jessica still really misses Liz and feels awful. More crying is obviously called for.

So then it's Grandmother Robertson's (Alice's mom) birthday. And Alice asks Liz to please attend. Will concocts this scenario in which Liz takes Liam (who is exactly Jessica's type and, might I add, as a hot Irishman who tends bar, exactly my type as well) to the party, and Jess falls for him and leaves Todd, because Jessica is a fickle asshole who can't commit to anything. So then Liz is all, "That's a great idea!" but then Will gets mad at her for doing it? That part was so confusing to me, and that was before the free wine.

So Liz takes Liam home to Sweet Valley and he takes one look at Jessica and falls for her. Jessica, for her part, doesn't even notice, that's how crazy her jelly is for Todd Wilkins. Todd gets jealous, everyone starts fighting, and Liz leaves.

She comes back to NYC and has sex with Will, but I guess only as friends? And then Jessica shows up, ready to give up Todd if it means getting back together with Liz. And they make up and then Todd and Jessica get married and Bruce declares his strident love for Liz Wakefield in the last four pages of the book, and they have THE ONE SEX SCENE OF THIS ENTIRE BOOK and then the end.

Bff Charm: Have We Met?

Honestly, if you think that I was so wowed by the miracle of this book as to be able to put aside my Wakefield grudges and be BFF with these people, you are INSANE IN THE MEMBRANE. Like, maybe you actually need to get an MRI and check to see if tiny Insanity Fairies are living in the membrane under your skull? I mean, I'm just saying; you might want to check it out; there could be something there. I JUST WANT TO HELP YOU.

So, in other words, no. Liz is still as Liz as ever, only now she's fucking LIZ WHO HATH BEEN WRONGED, so she spends the entire book being all uppity and shizz and moaning about how much she hates Jessica and Todd, and then she makes overall dumb choices and I hate her.

And Jessica? Jessica mostly just cries all the time. I mean, I hate to be the caricature of misogyny here, but TAKE SOME MIDOL AND GET OVER IT, JESSICA.

The saving grace is that Enid only shows up once.

SIDE NOTE: OH MY GOD LUFTHANSA JUST GAVE ME FREE BAILEYS. I love this airline, even if they do only have communal tvs and they're showing Secretariat and I had to overhear this one lady tell this confused/bored German passenger that Secretariat was, "like, from the 50s or something" and I really wanted to school her but I wanted to pee more, so I just went into the bathroom.

Swoonworthy Scale: 7 Minus 10 Equals Negative 3

Francine Pascal had all the opportunity in the world to turn this into A Sex Book. She really did! The twins are 27! The people reading this book are AT LEAST 27, but probably even older. THERE COULD HAVE BEEN SOME SEXY TIMES. But, sadly, up until, like, the THIRD TO LAST PAGE, there wasn't. Why no sexy times, Francine? I like sex. I bet you like sex. At least 90% of people, I'd say, like sex. Why no sex?

And THEN, to add insult to injury, the only sex she detailed happened with ELIZABETH. Thus the score: it was a fairly steamy sex scene (7), but it starred THE NEMESIS OF MY HEART, Elizabeth Wakefield (minus 10) and therefore overall I was left with the feeling that I should probably just sew up my orifices and join a nunnery and/or start dating Young Republicans (therefore -3).

Talky Talk: Um, Pascalian?

So! Francine Pascal wrote this book! And that was new to me, her style of writing. So, uh, that's it! A lot of verb tense changes and some emo bullshit, I guess. I almost prefer the members of the Cabal.

Bonus Factor: Catching Up With Old Friends

Well, I can say this about Sweet Valley Confidential -- it was nice to see where everyone ended up, even if where they ended up bears no fucking relation to who they were in the original series. Let's recap, using a handy guide at the end of the book that Francine Pascal wrote! I will extrapolate my thoughts on Ms. Pascal's feelings for each character, depending on their future:

Robert Redford lookalike, Mr Collins, is writing books. He's dating some chick who is like 15 years younger than him. Francine Pascal's view? Mr Collins would have totally schtupped Susanne Devlin were it not for her crazy eyes.

Aaron Dallas: Is gay, and dating Stephen/Steven Wakefield. He is still short and probably still wears striped sweaters and all those anger issues were latent homosexuality questions surfacing, I guess. FP Thoughts? Well, it's not like Stephen/Steven could do much better, and at least Aaron Dallas hasn't Tragically Died yet.

Lila Fowler: married to Ken Matthews but they keep hooking up again. Also she has streaked her hair blonde. FP Thoughts? "Why couldn't I have sold a book based solely on Lila?"

J French is now a dentist. FP Thoughts? "I always knew he'd be boring."

Betsey Martin is still an alcoholic, so I guess old habits, etc etc.

AJ Morgan sells shoes at the mall and fucks Enid on the side.

Enid is a gynecologist and up herself farther than any speculum could ever reach. Everyone hates her now, including Liz. FP thoughts? "Finally, we can all join in on hating Enid more than anyone!"

Annie Whitman's a lawyer, but Francine Pascal makes sure to mention all her high school sexing. I guess once a slut, always a slut?

Former Fattie Robin Wilson, you will be delighted to know, is still not fat. Everyone breathes a huge fucking sigh of relief.

Bonus Factor: Liz Sucking

Hallelujah and praise Zoloft, at least two or three characters in this book acknowledged that Liz actively sucks at life 100% of the time. Of course, every other character was up her ass, but I like to think the few people who recognize that Liz sucks (including Liam, my new fictional hot Irish bartending boyfriend) were written specifically for us.

Bonus Factor: Self-Awareness

Nothing gets past that Francine Pascal, especially not a sale at Chico's! But, no, she showed a surprising amount of awareness as to the utter ridiculousness of Sweet Valley, and addressed it. SO THANK YOU, FRANCINE!! Though that still doesn't make up for how much I had to read about Liz Fucking Wakefield, Fuckmaster to the Stars.

Anti-Bonus Factor: Emo-ass Shizz

LORD ALMIGHTY. I just wanted to fucking liquefy some Paxil and tube-feed it to nearly everyone in this book. STOP FUCKING CRYING, JESSICA. STOP FUCKING WHINING, LIZ. JUST STOP FUCKING IN GENERAL, TODD; I DON'T THINK YOU ARE VERY GOOD AT IT.

I mean, MY GOD. If I wanted to read a book in which everyone was fucking miserable all the time, I'd read Tolstoy. This was like the book equivalent of cutting yourself with a pen knife, listening to Panic! at the Disco and crying over your Justin Bieber poster, all at once. I mean, I'm not sure that anyone does those three things congruently, but they are individually, horrible things so I think maybe combined it'd be the shittiest thing ever?

Anti-Bonus Factor: Todd Wilkins

Seriously. This ENTIRE BOOK, EVERYTHING IN THIS BOOK, revolves around the fact that not one, but TWO PEOPLE, think Todd Wilkins is the bee's knees. TODD FUCKING WILKINS. Todd Wilkins isn't worth the motion it takes my tongue to actually form the WORDS Todd Wilkins. Ugh. Fucking fuckface.

Anti-Bonus Factor: Liz Wakefield

I hate Liz Wakefield. We all know this. But at least usually I can ignore her in favor of, oh, anything else. Watching paint dry. Asking the old lady that lives near me to tell me about "the good old days." Watch Four Weddings. Whatever. Anything is better than Liz Wakefield. That's what I'm saying.

Liz Wakefield, thoughts about Liz Wakefield, complaining that Liz Wakefield hates someone, Liz Wakefield crying, people wanting to sleep with Liz Wakefield, people not wanting to sleep with Liz Wakefield . . . that is 99.99999% of this ENTIRE. FUCKING. BOOK.

I just . . . SHE IS NOT INTERESTING. And in this book, she's not only not interesting but also ACTIVELY HORRIBLE IN EVERY WAY. And yet no one would shut the fuck up about Elizabeth Fucking Wakefield.

Casting Call:

I have nothing to do here! There are no Doublemint twins around the age of 27 to cast!! Oh, I guess I could cast the Olsens! But to be honest, I like the Olsens, and I wouldn't want my memories of them to be forever maligned by thinking of them as Wakefields.

Relationship Status: You Can't Go Home Again.

I'll admit it; I was genuinely excited about this book. I even told our contact at St Martins (the lovely Ann Marie) that I was considering the publication of this book to be a birthday gift FROM THE UNIVERSE. (If the Universe is listening and would still like to give me a gift, I'll take cash.)

But, I don't know. I'm the first one to rag on Sweet Valley, we all know this, but that is because it is ridiculously awful and I'm genuinely surprised that we, the Sweet Valley High generation, did not grow up to be legitimate assholes with rampant eating disorders. But all that poking fun is out of love; I mean, these are the books I grew up with. (If this is how I treat the things I love, you should see what I do with the things I hate.)

But Sweet Valley just doesn't work as either an earnest tale (if that is what this was supposed to be) or a salacious tell-all (which I think was the ultimate goal, but there would have to be WAY more sex and WAY less emo tears to make this book salacious). I just wanted to make fun of the twins and their ridiculous friends and then have a slice of pizza at Guido's (which is now called Napkin). I didn't want to read about Jessica and Todd falling in love (gross), Bruce harboring a thing for his Goldilocks (why), or Elizabeth's endless fucking whining (shoot me now).

I hope that Diablo Cody turns up the irreverence and turns down the Moral Life Lessons, or the movie is going to be as depressing as this book was.

Now, if you don't mind, I'm going to avail myself of more free booze, read the Hunger Games script, and try not to think about Elizabeth Wakefield having sex. Ever again.

Update: Jetlag made me forget this part:

FTC Full Disclosure: I received this book from St Martin's Press. I accepted neither money nor cocktails (damnit!) for this review. Sweet Valley Confidential hit stores this week.

BUT ALSO. I purchased a copy of this book as well, and we will be giving it away. So if you're interested, leave a comment (remember to click "subscribe to comments" to be alerted of new comments). I'll pick a winner at random when I return from the Middle East next week.

Erin Callahan's photo About the Author: Erin is loud, foul-mouthed, an unrepentant lover of trashy movies and believes that champagne should be an every day drink. When she isn't drowning in a sea of engineers for whom Dilbert is still uproariously funny, she's writing about books, tv, the cult of VC Andrews and more.
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