review & discussion: “double love” November 7, 2009Posted by Katie in features, reviews.
Tags: mandy-katie book club, sweet valley high
A special treat for you today! Mandy from Edge of Seventeen (who is beyond awesome and spent a ton of time on this with me) and I teamed up to do a re-read (me)/first-read (her) of “Sweet Valley High: Double Love.” And you get the bonus of reading our reviews, our interviews of each other, and entering two giveaways (one on my blog, one on Mandy’s) to win your own copy of “Double Love!”
Elizabeth and Jessica Wakefield are amazingly gorgeous, absolutely popular, perfect twins. The only difference between them is a beauty mark on Liz’s shoulder. Even though the girls are friends, there’s a certain amount of twin rivalry that comes through and in this first installment, it’s because of a boy named Todd Wilkins.
I grew up reading “Sweet Valley High.” I used to hole in the back of my library during the summer (we didn’t have air conditioning in Chicago…it was a long summer), pulling dozen of the books off the library turnstile racks and camping out until my mom dragged me home. These books were books about the cool girls, the girls that I longed to be as a “tween.” (I remember reading the series the summer between fifth and sixth grade. So I was eleven or so.)
It’s hard for me to critique something that I loved this much, something that is part of my childhood.
The book is a typical eighties series. It starts with the heavy handed introduction of the characters (raise your hand if you remember what size the Wakefield girls wore), builds into a typical drama that is easily resolved within the 180 pages, and is peppered with slang and pop cultural reference.
Even though the twins are close, they have a certain frenemies quality about them. Jessica sabotages Elizabeth while trying to get what she wants. But at the same time, the reader is sympathetic to Jessica — I remember feeling completely caught up in her desire to fit in and be popular. (My favorite twin was Elizabeth though. She wanted to be a writer! She had a typewriter! Of her own!)
The characterization is pretty typical. Jessica’s a popular cheerleader. Elizabeth (the more reserved twin) works on the newspaper and has the most prestigious column, the “Eyes and Ears” column which must remain anonymous. We have a kind of nerdy friend in Enid, the cute jock in Todd, the rich snob in Bruce, the rebellious bad boy in Rick, good guy (albeit geeky) in Win, and the town bad girl in Betsy.
Plot-wise, the book has plenty of drama — the twins fighting over Todd, the possible affair that their father is having, their brother’s mysterious appearances even though he’s at college, and the two most influential families fighting over the school’s football field. And of course, the first dance of the year.
Yes, the book is dated. I rolled my eyes several times at some of the language and situations, but I loved my stroll down memory lane.
However…I was curious about the revisions in the 2008 edition. So I read them both…if you loved Sweet Valley High as a teen back in the eighties/nineties, beware before picking up the re-released version. There are small subtle changes that make the story more modern, mostly pop culture things. No more tuxedo shirts; Jessica now loves halter tops. Rick Andover doesn’t whip Jessica off to Kelly’s for their first date…he takes her to an illegal drag racing highway. And our beloved Dairi Burger is now Casa del Sol.
Even though I missed the classic feeling of Sweet Valley, the book is modernized pretty well. Most of the original story is intact and I think it will find new readership, especially with the revamped covers. I just can’t wait until my teens find out these books were released before they were born!
(Katie) Let me start off by saying that I can’t believe that Jessica was your favorite twin! Gasp! How do you think teens now are going to respond to choosing between Jessica and Elizabeth? Are more teens going to pick Jessica because she’s more real? (I always thought Elizabeth was a bit too perfect and Jessica more the real twin.)
(Mandy) I know! Even as I was writing about Jessica being my favourite twin I was thinking “something is wrong here”. And it’s funny, while I was reading I kept thinking how twins would react to these two. Or how twins are portrayed. I read somewhere that Francine Pascal thought of J and E more as Jekyll/Hyde than two separate people. Which I totally see. Especially with Jessica just pretending to be Elizabeth all the time and people confusing them. It may be a stretch but that’s why I like the fact that one model was photographed twice to represent both girls on the updated cover art.
Jess DOES seem to be more real as a character. I was probably more like Liz when I was in high school so she seems too serious to me. I’m more like Jess now, although Rick Andover? Bleggh. No thanks.
(Katie) I’d never heard that before — about the twins being the same person, but like Jekyll/Hyde. That makes absolute perfect sense. And I like what you said about the cover model being used twice. I don’t think it’s too much a stretch.
I have a gut feeling that real twins probably wouldn’t relate to the Wakefields as a realistic portrayal of twins. But I’ll have to let you know later in life. My twin cousins are only one and a half! I would love to hear a twin’s perspective on the book.
Ha! Rick Andover is blechy. I don’t know what Jessica saw in him, especially since she could have any guy she wanted basically. (And she does…a lot.)
(Katie) Are the teens who read “Gossip Girl” and the like going to be able to relate to this world? (The updated version has a bit more drugs and drinking references, but I don’t think it’s anywhere near Gossip Girl level.)
(Mandy) I haven’t read Gossip Girl but I’ve seen the t.v. show (I heart Chuck Bass! *gasp* I really AM Jessica!). But no, SVH is not at the level of Gossip Girl. It is more quaint. Although, I did find the characterization of Jess and Liz was done well. I mean, Jess is written as a party girl who is conceited and selfish, she does some pretty terrible things to her sister, but she never comes off as evil. But she kind of is. Nobody would love growing up with Jess around, hogging the boys, kissin’ the guy you love and telling everyone you’re a slut. But we all knew or know girls like this. So the characters are relatable, I think, but some of the action in the book is more 90210 old-school rather than Gossip Girl.
I want to randomly add: what’s up with teen dramas that always include sub-plots of beloved parents having affairs? As a teen I didn’t really care what parents were up to and didn’t think them capable of these kinds of shenanigans. Hello, Walsh Twins!
(Katie) I know! I never wanted to think about my parents being in a relationship period. Other than, you know, staying together and sleeping in the same bed every night. I never even wanted to think about my parents as sexual creatures! An affair wasn’t even a possibility. If you asked me as a teen, the last time they had sex was when they conceived my younger sister. Eww.
(Katie) And you would know this one best — are the books actually being bought by teens? (Libraries still have the old editions, so the new ones aren’t really being purchased…or if they are, they’re getting tied to the old records so I can’t tell if they’re circulating in my system.)
(Mandy) I don’t actually know if they’re selling. I had to order the few copies we have at the store and we still have them. But, much of the selling of certain titles that happens at an independent bookstore happens because of hand-selling. Which I fully intend to do. I sold a few of the Babysitter’s Club graphic novel, the new BSC re-makes, and the new generation seemed to like them. Some data on SVH currently: Double Love the updated version is now in-stock at 20 locations in Canada and they sell 1-3 copies a month, on average. It’s not a huge bestseller, but not every book can be. This type of movement is alright, it shows that a new generation is interested in these stories again. I think they did a good enough job of the re-make.
(Katie) Excellent! I might go ahead and purchase a few of the re-released titles for my library. They are, after all, working on a SVH movie. And I’m not sure how I feel about that…nervous mostly.
(Katie) Was there anything that in the book that didn’t work for you — that seemed like teens today would scoff at because it’s too dated?
(Mandy) You know, not a lot. A few tiny things like Jess “fluffing” her hair before she enters a room. It made me think she had eighties teased hair. I’m not sure fluffy hair is in anymore. But they did a good job of having things like cell phones, laptops, blackberries. Just even referencing these items places the events in the book in a more contemporary time. Even though having this stuff doesn’t actually DO anything, plot-wise in the book. And when Todd phones for Liz at the beginning of the book he uses their landline, NOT a cell phone number. So there are still classic elements of the original.
(Katie) Good, I’m glad. I thought the update was successful, but I was worried that I might be placing too much nostalgia in the success. These were my childhood, after all!
(And yeah, I’m totally repeating this from Mandy’s blog, because I like uniformity. )