YET ANOTHER SUPER SPOILER ALERT!!
Okay, okay. You've had a few months. Has everyone finished reading at this point? Like it or not, it's time to put your books away and get pencils out. I'm giving you a pop quiz?
1.Who sleeps with more guys in this book, Elizabeth or Jessica?
2. Which Men of Sweet Valley fall in love…with each other?
3. Which character(s) grew into reportedly despicable adults?
The answers to the above questions encompass (1) my favorite about-face in this brave new SVC world (and one I find somewhat believable); (2) the part of the book that makes me most giddy, despite the fact that it seems totally unbelievable; (3) the one thing about this book that really, truly stinks (putting aside my dismay about Jess and Todd ending up together). Let's explore.
- Elizabeth. I haven't pored over every page of the book looking for sex scenes (I swear!) but by my count, Jessica only gets busy with two guys in SVC: Todd (past and present), and the rich guy she ditches in France. Elizabeth, on the other hand, has (to start) chapter one's infamous “crying orgasm” stranger. This event doesn’t occur during the book, strictly speaking, but I think we can agree that linear timelines and Sweet Valley are mortal enemies, and that’s true in this new book even more than in the never-ending junior year of the SVH series. Then there’s Todd of course (mentioned in the past-tense), the saucy playwright Will Connolly, and, ultimately, Bruce. At least two of those pairings are reactionary, Elizabeth acting out against her goody-goody, sweet, and trusting past, the past that wounded her so deeply.
Jessica, meanwhile, thinks of seducing others (her co-worker, most notably), but decides to put that out of her mind in favor of love. Now, that doesn’t sound much like Jessica. But when one is trying to put one’s life together after a failed relationship (or, in Jessica’s case, after MANY failed-by-design relationships), one often tries to make a drastic change, lest you make the same mistake twice. Especially at 27. Even though I was a bit disappointed that Jessica didn’t decide to seduce anyone in this book, you know, just for old times’ sake, I have to say that this particular turnabout in the lives of the twins makes sense to me.
- Steven Wakefield and Aaron Dallas. Let me say that again, in case any of you are reading this instead of the actual book. Steven Wakefield and Aaron Dallas fall in love in this book. With each other. It’s kind of awesome, in a shocked-and-surprised-but-oh-what-the-heck sort of way. Of course, in real life, young men (and women) discover their homosexuality post-high-school, and most of us probably have at least one or two high-school peers whom we friended on Facebook only to find that, against expectations, they’d come out.
But seriously, now. Aaron Dallas, the soccer star with the anger management problem, and Steven Wakefield, the handsome brother who dated a high school girl (in the book, he and Cara are married, you’ll recall) while he was in college? These are not the prime suspects for gaydom in the Sweet Valley Universe. Who would I have picked, you ask? Easy:
Nicholas Morrow (infamous ascot wearer) and Tom McKay (though he had several girlfriends, it was once suggested that Jessica “turned him off the female sex forever”). Wouldn’t they have made a lovely couple? Sure, it wouldn’t have been particularly helpful to the story, but it would have been more believable. Or perhaps Steven could have fallen for one of them instead of Aaron. As one twitter follower pointed out, Steve and Nick could have adopted a daughter and named her Regina. Sweet.
- Pretty much all of them. Enid is a bitchy doctor who Liz doesn’t even keep in touch with anymore, and she’s ashamed of her affair with mere salesperson (note sarcasm) A.J. Morgan. Lila and Ken have a disastrous and complicated marriage/divorce. Steven is keeping his homosexual affair a secret from his wife. Betsey Morgan is reportedly a drunk again. Don’t even get me started on Jessica and Todd. It used to be that only Jessica and Lila were consistently awful, and at least then it was with a fragment of soul that kept you interested. These 27-year-olds are just sort of awful.
Of course, the saddest example is Winston. That he becomes rich and famous definitely fits the model, and we know that wealth corrupts. But screw believability (and ignore the fact that I’ve been ranting about it throughout this entry), this is Sweet Valley! Why does Winston have to turn bad? Moreover, why does he have to die? (Sorry, non-readers, but I did say “super spoiler alert”.) This is just the prime example of what seems like the mean theme of this book: People are jerks, and you have to learn to live with it. Rise above it if you can, but it’s inevitable. And, yeah, that might be true, but it’s not exactly the message we Adult Readers of the Sweet Valley Series have been waiting for. As pre-teens reading the SVH series, we got lessons like “Don’t be a drunk driver,” “Don’t hang out with creepy older dudes,” or “Help your friends when they get kidnapped.” Some of us could still benefit from such lessons, I’m sure. One of the reasons I hope there are more volumes in a theoretical Sweet Valley Confidential Series is because I think these characters deserve a chance to redeem themselves, and we deserve a little more from them.
One more thing about Winston: As unpleasant as his storyline gets, it holds some fascinating implications. Remember how Winston and Todd grew apart after the former found out about the latter’s affair with Jessica? Well, what if that betrayal destroyed the fun-loving Winston’s faith in humanity? Success held little joy for him if two people he thought so much of could do something so hurtful to someone they loved. He could only take pleasure in joys of the flesh, so to speak, and they led him to accidental death. So, in a way, his death is Todd and Jessica’s fault. Wouldn’t that be interesting? I think so. Next book, please!