SUPER SPOILER ALERT!!
The progression of Sweet Valley Diaries through its chronological examination of Sweet Valley and the Wakefield Twins has come to a screeching halt. Our very timeline has been turned on its head. The ‘80s are long past, the ‘90s (or was it the ‘00s?) have been virtually skipped over, and we’ve been launched into the present, face to face with our young heroines as not-quite-as-young adults. In adult situations.
We now live in a world where Sweet Valley Confidential is a reality.
There is a lot to say about this new book, written by Francine Pascal herself for an audience of now-adult Sweet Valley fans. It’s not an adult novel, per say, though there is a little forbidden fruit hidden within, but it is certainly grown-up, mostly freed from the idyllic mise-en-scene of flawless California girlhood. In fact, it starts far away from sunny Sweet Valley, on the other coast, in a worn and lonely New York City apartment that belongs to Elizabeth. Jessica, the ersatz “runaway,” is thousands of miles away, still at home in Sweet Valley. And Liz has no interest in being any closer. She is really, really pissed. And, finally, it’s at Jessica.
Starting the book here, with both an emotional and geographical rift between the twins, is a little bit genius. The crisis of having the stars of the series on non-speaking terms is both maddening (readers will keep turning pages until the problem is solved) and sort of satisfying (wasn’t it about time Liz got really, truly angry with Jessica about something?). Of course it would take a truly epic wrong on Jessica’s part to drive Elizabeth that far. What was it?
I shudder to relive the awful realization: Jessica and Todd have fallen in love. Ugh.
The details of this “ultimate betrayal” is revealed to us little by little as the book unfolds, so I was able to hold out hope for a while that it was all a misunderstanding. But not for too long. The whole sordid tale is told from multiple perspectives, through an unusual mixture of third-person narrative in the present (just as in the original series) with first person accounts, diary-style, from a past version of Elizabeth, Jessica, and sometimes Todd. It’s all pretty complicated, but it involves Jess and Todd falling for each other and then breaking it off because they felt awful, an unknowing Elizabeth and Todd getting engaged, Jessica getting married to some rich guy as a kind of escape, Jessica leaving this guy behind in France to come home to her sister and Todd, and ultimately, Elizabeth finding out that her two favorite people once had an affair behind her back. And now they’re in love.
I told you it was complicated.
For me, this central plot point is the book’s biggest flaw. Jessica and Todd? It’s not that they always hated each other – that kind of animosity could turn into passion, I get it. And the fact that they slept together is both awful and delicious. But in love? These two hated each other because the had irreconcilable world views, because of their defining character traits. If these are still the characters we knew from Sweet Valley High, a romance between the smart, commitment-loving Todd and the boy-crazy, self-centered Jessica just doesn’t make sense. At least not as a long-term thing. But we are supposed to believe that the two are truly in love.
I know there are many who disagree with me here, but when I found out this book was going to be written, I really wanted to see Elizabeth and Todd together forever. Now that I’ve read the book, I kind of hate Todd, and Jessica seems unfamiliar to me (the Jessica that leaves her new husband in France I recognize, but this girl who can’t leave Todd? Nope.). As I go back to my Sweet Valley High novels, it is with the knowledge of the cast’s future, and this prescience will likely color my views on what happens in the series from here on. Now, most of us don’t spend our free time reading young adult pulp novels from the 1980s, so this crisis of awareness is less significant. But with Todd’s return to Sweet Valley imminent, I doubt I’ll find it quite as riveting now that I know he’s a total asshole.
There’s more, of course, much more. But we’ll save that for next time.