Sweet Valley Confidential
HarperCollins (AU: 1st April 2011); Random House Cornerstone Arrow (UK: 14th April 2011); St. Martin’s (US: 3rd January 2012)
Buy (US) Buy (UK) Buy (CA) Buy (Worldwide)
I was raised on British comedy TV, so books provided my US insight. Growing up in Australia, reading Sweet Valley was an escapist bizarro world of cultures that seemed very foreign: cheerleaders, school spirit, every sixteen-year-old had a car, etc. And they were always shopping, even though none of them worked. Lila Fowler must’ve used credit cards paid for by her dad, but that doesn’t explain the others. So everyone in Sweet Valley seemed rich.
Like most long-running series, Sweet Valley jumped the shark – namely when Sweet Valley High switched to SVH Senior Year, Sweet Valley Twins to Sweet Valley Jr. High, and Sweet Valley University to…well, the twins moved into a duplex, and then came the biggest shark-jump of all: an Upstairs, Downstairs four-book series entitled Elizabeth, in which Elizabeth Wakefield runs away to England, calls herself Elizabeth Bennet, and works as a scullery maid for some kind of British royalty. I am not kidding. I wish I were.
After the first Elizabeth novel, I dropped all Sweet Valley. I moved onto chick lit, then crime for a good chunk of time, then urban fantasy in the early-2000s.
My memory is a sieve, but Sweet Valley Confidential leads me to believe my brain isn’t an entire wasteland:
SWEET VALLEY CONFIDENTIAL / MY BRAIN
Lila Fowler’s dad is Richard / Lila Fowler’s dad is George
A. J. Morgan is blond / A. J. Morgan is a redhead
Aaron Dallas was a dick in high school / Aaron Dallas was not a dick in high school
Basically my beef with Sweet Valley Confidential is that I don’t know what’s canon (or even what “canon” means):
Canon: Events that are set in stone, and affect future storylines
E.g. Maude dies in The Simpsons
Not canon: eg. The Simpsons never age, even though they’ve had so many Christmases
Confidential references events from SVU: Jessica Wakefield was married to Mike McAllery; Elizabeth had a long-term relationship with Tom Watts. But it forgets that Enid Rollins became Alexandra.
A series should stay true to the characters all the way. Francine Pascal throws that out the window, turning villains into heroes, and heroes into villains: Jessica and Todd are engaged. Elizabeth and Bruce are BFFs.
Class clown Winston Egbert formed a dot-com biz; became rich and a douchebag. I really liked him before, and sleazy Bruce was great fun – the Chuck Bass of the ’90s. Lila Fowler was also a favourite, but she barely gets page-time in Confidential; just hosts a party.
The plot is weak, but the novel was published for nostalgia. Lyrics from Beyoncé’s “Broken-Hearted Girl” and Justin Timberlake’s “My Love” immediately date the story, and are unnecessary. The book is mostly meh, but Chapter 14 is when all hell breaks loose, a brilliant set-piece. At their grandmother’s birthday dinner, the twins face off, the guests get involved, Ned Wakefield escapes the table, and Alice Wakefield screams to bring in the cake. I don’t know if this scene is supposed to be hilarious, but it’s a hoot!
In short, you’re probably better off not reading Sweet Valley Confidential, but you’d be a fool to miss the shenanigans of Chapter 14. I can’t buy eBooks, so I’ll miss the upcoming e-serial, unless it emerges in a print book.