Childhood Revisited: Sweet Valley High. Or, I’m an Elizabeth.


There seems to be a Sweet Valley High renaissance going on in the world right now. It all started with the news Diablo Cody would be writing the script for a feature film version, which thrills me to no end. This little nugget of info exploded my world so significantly that I began looking up online for websites. The Random House official website is pretty blah, with nothing really thrilling or mind-blowing, although the quiz does inform me I am Team Elizabeth ( I’d rather be boring than a sociopath like Jessica). After exhausting the first page, I moved on to more important things.

Then Entertainment Weekly did it again.

Now, I realize I am at the age where a new generation is targeted by old taste makers to find out about the banalities of popular culture from the past. Lord know the ’80s were full of  idiotic cultural touchstones. But I still have a soft spot for SVH, despite the fact that every feminist bone in my adult body tells me I am wrong, wrong, WRONG for liking this unrealistic and smug series of books in which only beauty and money matter and teenagers never seem to have sex, smoke pot, and seem to have Fiats to drive because it is so practical to give teenagers a fucking FIAT. Of course, there are incidents of drugs, alcohol, and other naughty things, but these are usually met with dire consequences. It’s like Francine Pascal’s ghost writer’s were told to write as if the Hays Code still existed.

Needless to say, as the mother of daughters, I at first contemplated tossing what I had left of my collection lest they be fed the idea that blonde twig was the only lifestyle choice one has in order to be successful. Let us ignore too-good-to-be-true Elizabeth’s habit of ignoring her gut instinct and getting herself into serious trouble ( I swear to God, Elizabeth was a victim of kidnapping a half-dozen times). And Jessica’s clearly a future serial killer, as she has little regard for other people’s feelings or the inability to gauge the consequences of her actions.

No. Let’s not discuss these. After all, they are pretty, blonde, and they drive a FIAT!

I knew even back then that this world was ridiculous. It still didn’t stop me from wanting to be a Wakefield. As an adult, taking my collection and rereading it before handing it over to my eldest daughter, I recognize it as high camp. High, chaste camp. There is more sex in what my daughter reads now. Literally. But my daughter, clever little thing she is, recognized it for what it was immediately. She doesn’t love the books like I did. There are no sparkly vampires or heroic wizards, and Taylor Lautner plays no part in them.  The sex and violence in YA books has been amped up. She sees SVH as a tame relic of the past, much like how I viewed Beverley Cleary’s Fifteen when I was her age ( well, Fifteen was written in 1956. It was thirty years old when I found it).

The best part of my recent trip down memory lane, outside of my daughter telling me that my books were laughable and unreal, was discovering The Dairi Burger. All I needed was to find a group of people who both loved and ridiculed these truly ridiculous books of my childhood. I only started reading the first two pages before tears of joy and laughter made it impossible to continue ( one blog post is titled “Another Todd and Liz Breakup And Death threat For The Twins; It Must Be Tuesday”– I’m telling you that is GOLD!). I’m not nearly as adept at writing criticism about books as I am music and television, for as passionate as I am about literature, I can never pinpoint the exact reason why I think a book is great, while I can easily pinpoint the reasons I think Phoenix’s album is great, or why I still believe Homicide is a better TV series than The Wire. I can tell you why I love the SVH books- they are pure escapism and frothy fun. I can tell you why I don’t like them- anti-feminist and too superficial. These aren’t deep reasons, and mostly opinion made by me after limited thought. If I gave the series a read again and contemplated why these books are good and bad for preteen girls, I might be able to come up with more adult and rational reasons for my mixed feelings.

Until then, I think I’ll trek over the The Dairi Burger and read what everyone really thinks of Nowhere To Run.

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2 thoughts on “Childhood Revisited: Sweet Valley High. Or, I’m an Elizabeth.

  1. Excellent! Thanks for telling me about the Dairi Burger. The books were so far fetched and silly but I loved them so much. I’m still not sure how I got though my teenage years without being kidnapped!

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  2. Mwah, darling girl.

    My big thing is the complete and total lack of real teenage behavior in these books. My teenage years consisted of drving around town, sneaking beer, smoking cigarettes and pot. My life never resembles the Wakefields.

    Then again, who could possibly be that perfect(ly insane)?

    Like

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