Cover SVH The Sweet Life: Close up of two blonde women with a purple cover

About the Book

Title: The Sweet Life (Sweet Valley Confidential: The Sweet Life #1)
Lies and Omissions (Sweet Valley Confidential: The Sweet Life #2)
Published: 2012

Book lovers often experience a post-reading withdrawal in which we are depressed because we’re no longer with the characters. They are living on in the fictional world of the book, but you have no idea what’s happening. We mope around for days and our friends tell us “get over it, it’s just a book,” and we feel like no one else understands. So we run home and lay in bed and imagine various epilogue scenarios in our heads, refusing to believe it’s over. Or maybe that’s just me. (Ed. note: Sounds like the textbook syptoms of TEABS!)

This can be especially true with beloved series from our childhood… but be cafeful what you wish for! Fifteen or so years after the last book in the Sweet Valley High series was published, Francine Pascal released Sweet Valley Confidential, catching up with the Sweet Valley gang ten years after high school. Liz was same old responsible Liz, and Jessica was same old impulsive Jessica. But, to the surprise of no one, Jessica had stolen Elizabeth’s longtime boyfriend Todd, and Elizabeth ran away to New York City. As expected, the twins reconciled and Elizabeth moved back to Sweet Valley. (Read Erin’s review here.)

Sweet Valley Confidential came with mixed reviews: the loyal readers of the original series were now in their thirties, and by this time, we had gotten over the Wakefield twins and their matching silken, spun-from-gold hair and perfect figures. Perhaps we’d prefer them to live on as forever teenagers among the pages of the dog-eared copies in our library’s teen romance section. 

But Francine Pascal decided that we needed to know even MORE about the twins, and “she” is releasing six e-novellas that will continue to chronicle the lives of our familiar Sweet Valley characters in their thirties. The question is: do we really want to know? The world of Sweet Valley was one in which teenagers ran the world, where there were endless beach parties, dates and discos where time never moved forward and heartbreak and tragedy disappeared by the time the next book came out. These characters were never meant to be adults living in an adult world. I’d rather have them live on in their endless junior year in high school, contemplating school dances, escaping mass murderers, and winning the attention they much-deserved for being blond, a perfect size six, and blessed with being born a Wakefield.

“Francine Pascal” (I have a strong suspicion a ghost writer was employed once again) has made the choice for the characters to continue their same quirks, patterns and obnoxious behavior they had in high school. This sense of character familiarity is not comforting, it’s downright baffling. Reading these novellas, I felt like I just looked at the former popular kids from my high school’s Facebook profiles and saw they were still living in my hometown working at the car wash and hanging out at the same places and with the same people they did in high school. And suddenly my formerly awkward, orchestra-enthusiast and AP-class taking self feels better about myself for being able to move on to another place.

The plot points of the first two installments, The Sweet Life and Lies and Omissions, involve the characters acting in the exact same way they did in high school. And it’s infuriating. Look at your life! Look at your choices!!

Here’s some necessary exposition: at the end of Sweet Valley Confidential, Elizabeth finally accepted that Todd and Jessica were engaged to be married, after finding out that they had been having a secret affair since college. Elizabeth was able to get over this quickly, since she realized she was in love with her bff, Bruce Patman. Yes, that Bruce Patman, the rich, arrogant, preppy classmate who had a penchant for removing girls’ bikini tops at pool parties.

Three years have passed, and the twins and their high school friends are all still living in Sweet Valley. And I mean everyone. Caroline Pierce, former school gossip,  is in town and runs a gossip blog specifically to chronicle the lives of the Wakefields and their friends. Annie Whitman, whom Jessica once drove to a suicide attempt, is a successful prosecutor. Elizabeth writes for the Los Angeles Chronicle (of course), Todd is the sports reporter, and Jessica runs her own PR firm that specializes in environmentally-friendly cosmetics (just go with it.) Bruce Patman is professionally rich, and runs foundations or something. Lila Fowler is the trophy wife of NFL quarterback Ken Matthews and has just been cast on the True Housewives of Sweet Valley. Yes, you read that right! Because of course there needed to be some sort of relevant pop culture reference.

If you are a former reader of the Sweet Valley empire, you will recognize the themes that still play out in this world. It’s like an awkward high school reunion where you suddenly realize that you are the only one that’s changed. And you’re happy about it. 

Sweet Valley is the best place to live, ever! Anyone that doesn’t live here should be jealous. But…they all still live in Sweet Valley. If they are so talented, why did they not move on? Even to Los Angeles, which is an hour away and would seriously reduce the stress of commuting! What sort of crack is in the crystal-clear Sweet Valley ocean water that keeps them there? Is there some sort of Steven King-esque magic dome keeping them tethered to this insignificant town? Are the double cheeseburgers at The Dairi Burger just so damn good!?

What’s a relationship without some fighting and cheating? After all the drama with Todd ending up with Jessica, we find out that three years later, they’re already separated because Jessica spends too much time on her career and not enough time with Todd…and their son, Jake. Yes, it’s true! The universe has allowed Jessica to reproduce. Jessica decides to quit her job to make Todd happy. Thank god she knows her place?

But of course, not before she cheats on Todd with Liam, a famous movie star. But it’s only because she THOUGHT Todd cheated with a fellow reporter. That’s how adult marriages work, right?

Elizabeth has a Florence Nightingale complex. Bruce Patman, Elizabeth’s live-in lover, the rich and powerful (but now reformed since his parents were killed in a car accident, RIP Henry and Marie) is accused of sexual assault by a former intern. Elizabeth, Sweet Valley’s own Woodward and Bernstein, takes on the case herself because part of her doubts Bruce. Because, hallelujah, she recalls one time in high school when she hit her head and acted very seductively, and Bruce tried to take advantage of her. Let’s all give a slow-clap for Francine for finally acknowledging the attempted rape incident.

But, despite that, Bruce has changed. He’s nice! And Elizabeth doesn’t mind going down on him, either. (Yes, there is sex in these books. Finally.) That doesn’t stop her from tracking down the said intern and posing as a church counselor in order to gain the girls’ trust. Part of her wants to get the truth and about 95% of her is LOVING this poor girls’ reliance on her. So much so that she rents a house in her name to “hide” the girl; aka, do an emotional “Karl the Orderly” kidnapping on her.

Above all, wealth and beauty matter the most. Remember when we all loved Lila, despite being rich and snotty, because of her clever quips and “tell it like it is” attitude? That may be amusing as a teenager, but the adult Lila is an absolute monster. She is proud of manipulating her husband, Ken Matthews, with sex, and her ultimate goal is to be the favorite “”bitch” on the True Housewives of Sweet Valley. Although to achieve this, she bad-mouths Ken on camera. Finally, he grows a spine and leaves Lila; her sexy outfits and pouts don’t work this time. It’s ok, she can still be the star- she pulls the “I’m pregnant” announcement to get attention on the show. It’s hard to root for Lila when she acts like a complete sociopath.

Please understand that the literary caliber of this tome does not call for the reader to sympathize with an anti-hero. Lila should win because she’s the prettiest and the richest. Just like in life, am I right, ladies?

The world revolves around the Wakefield twins. Not only do the twins and their boyfriends still inexplicably live in Sweet Valley (and have a BEAST of a commute to Los Angeles) but so do the periphery characters for which the Wakefields brought a WORLD of pain. Nevermind that they would get on with their lives, but they are still around for the purpose of the Wakefield twins egos.

Caroline Pierce, former school gossip, ridiculed endlessly by Jessica and her high school posse now runs a gossip blog about Sweet Valley.  And supposedly makes a full-time living. Because people give a crap about the Wakefield’s whereabouts, of course. Oh, lest I forget, Jessica’s PR events get national coverage. And people care about the exploits of a second-string NFL player. Thus, this is the site where Bruce’s name is dragged through the cyber mud and Todd finds out about Jessica’s affair with Liam. It seems to have a target audience of five people.

Annie Whitman, whom you may remember as the poor girl who ATTEMPTED suicide because of Jessica’s torment, is back in town after her divorce, and is a big time prosecutor in Sweet Valley. (Okay, okay, to be fair, Sweet Valley does have an unusually high rate of murderers, stalkers, and escaped convicts.) Meanwhile, she is more than happy to help Jessica clear Bruce’s name, another high school chum that made her life hell. Oh, of course, Jessica is providing her PR services pro-bono for Bruce, someone who was ALSO super cruel to her in high school.

We leave the end of Lies and Omissions with the questions:  Will Todd ever forgive Jessica for her indiscretion? Will Bruce be exonerated from his sexual assault charges?

There’s not much suspense in these cliffhangers, because based on how things work in Sweet Valley roles, the twins always get what they want and are never held accountable for their negative actions. In Sweet Valley world, men are often falsely accused of assault (both Todd and the handsome English teacher, Mr. Collins both included), and if they did do the crime, they go completely bonkers, aka John Pfeiffer who tried to frame Lila for Arson and then strapped dynamite to himself and tried to blow up the high school. Bruce wouldn’t want to get his Helmut Lang shirts dirty, so this is unlikely.

The next four installments will be released over the next four months. Despite my reservations, I will be there for each one, forever devoted to the lives of the Wakefield twins. It’s like a car crash that no matter how hard I try, I can’t look away. 

About the Contributor:

Robin Hardwick is the founder of the Sweet Valley High-devoted site, The Dairi Burger.

This post was written by a guest writer or former contributor for Forever Young Adult.