Entertainment & Arts

Sweet Valley High returns 10 years on

Sweet Valley Confidential

Read by millions of teenage girls in the 1980s, a Sweet Valley High fan gives her verdict on the first new book for nearly a decade which follows the Wakefield twins 10 years on.

Years before Twilight, Harry Potter and Gossip Girl, millions of teenage girls around the world read about the antics of twin sisters Elizabeth and Jessica Wakefield.

Created in 1983 by US author Francine Pascal who subsequently oversaw a team of ghost-writers, Sweet Valley High followed the perfect blonde-haired, blue-eyed 16-year-old sisters living in an idyllic California town.

And although they were identical in appearance, they were complete opposites in personality: Elizabeth was sensible and studious, while Jessica had a more rebellious streak and often got herself into trouble.

With a number of spin-off series and a short-lived TV show that followed, the main series sold 250 million copies before its 152nd and final title was published in 2003.

Now after nearly a decade and with a Hollywood film in the pipeline, Pascal has returned with Sweet Valley Confidential: Ten Years On, which picks up with the sisters who are now aged 27 - and living separate lives.

Fan reaction

Shannon Rumberger, 30, works in a bookshop in Florida and has been writing a blog chronicling the Sweet Valley books for the past two years. She estimates she has read around 250 books from the series and its spin-offs.

"There's always been a special place in my heart for young adult fiction. I loved stories about kids dealing with school and friends and the Sweet Valley books were the perfect antidote to that craving.

Image caption Shannon Rumberger has read more than 200 Sweet Valley books

I got my copy of Sweet Valley Confidential about a week before the release date, and dove right in.

Elizabeth and Jessica are now 27 years old, Liz is living in New York and hasn't spoken to Jessica in eight months. Through flashbacks awkwardly inserted into almost every chapter, we find out what happened between the twins that made Liz run away from her beloved hometown.

The truth is not terribly shocking when it comes out, nor is it compelling. What was exciting for me was finding out what became of Lila and Bruce and the rest of the old gang.

It's comforting, if a little sad, that not much has changed in the last 10 years of these characters' lives. There are some outliers: two characters we know well are openly gay, two former friends are arrogant jerks, and a former arrogant jerk is now a good friend.

But in most cases, our favourite characters have grown up to be exactly what we thought they would become - nearly everyone has found success in one form or another and those who haven't, well, they were probably headed down a bad road anyway.

One pleasant surprise is how seamlessly Confidential fits into the 21st century. After reading horrendous updated versions of the first two books in the original series - Double Love and Secrets - I was sure there would be brand names on every page and gratuitous mentions of mobile phones and mp3 players.

Instead, what "tech talk" there is comes naturally - Jessica wishes Elizabeth would accept her Facebook friend requests and Liz's boss is surprised she has a landline as well as a mobile phone. However Liz does spend more time than I'd like listening to Justin Timberlake and Beyonce.

My expectations were not very high for Confidential. Let's face it, the Sweet Valley books have never been much more than fluff and I didn't think the lighthearted shenanigans would translate well to a book written for adults.

In a way, I was right - Liz's anger at Jessica comes across as whining and Jessica is the same selfish brat she always was.

But I'm glad it stayed light. It wouldn't be Sweet Valley if it tried to be a serious piece of literature."

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