A few months ago I was at a kinder committee meeting. Somehow the conversation went from kinder fundraising to Sweet Dreams book (I’m fairly sure we had dealt with all the business on the agenda before discussing teen romances…). Turns out that we had all loved the Sweet Dreams series and we had a good reminisce about our favourite titles (for me it was Ten Boy Summer and P.S. I Love You). Sweet Dreams led to Sweet Valley High and like the others, I would save my pocket-money for the next installment of Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield’s sunny Californian lives.
The Sweet Life by Francine Pascal is an e-book serial picking up where Sweet Valley Confidential: Ten Years Later left off. Just to bring you up to speed, Jessica married Todd (yes, Elizabeth’s Todd!) and Elizabeth ended up with Bruce Patman (yes, bad-boy Bruce!). There are six books in the The Sweet Life series, each very short at approximately 120 pages – like sitting down to read a magazine but packed with all the characters you loved in the eighties.
The first installment of the Sweet Life series sets up all sorts of plot lines (but resolves none!) – Jessica’s marriage to Todd is on the rocks; Lila is the star of a reality show, ‘True Housewives’; and Bruce Patman has been accused of sexual assault – an accusation that journalist and amateur sleuth Elizabeth wants to get to the bottom of.
As well as the progression of the main storylines, there are a few subplots within each book. In trademark Pascal style they are unashamedly ludicrous and beautifully melodramatic – expect all sorts of things from the abduction of Steven Wakefield and his partner Aaron’s baby (yes, despite high school sweethearts of the female variety, it turns out that Steven prefers men) to the discrediting of Elizabeth’s work colleague (who also happens to be making a play for Todd). Also in trademark style, Pascal finishes the sixth book with a cliffhanger – expect to hear more from the Wakefield twins.
Giving the stories currency with their intended audience, there are loads of pop-culture references from Obama and iPods to McMansions, gay weddings in New York and Twitter. I was neither here nor there about Pascal making the stories ‘current’ but I did care that the characters stayed true to form. And they do. Expect Jessica’s best flouncing around, dark moments of guilt and self-analysing from Elizabeth and Lila-sized tantrums.
“Incredibly enough, Jessica was not envious. Not to misunderstand, she was still Jessica Wakefield, very competitive and self-absorbed and never bothering to hide it. But now she was too busy succeeding to waste time on envy.”
“‘Lila, we’re not in high school anymore,” said Jessica suddenly, sounding just like Elizabeth. But Lila wasn’t buying. “Are you kidding? All of life is high school.”‘
Are you having flashbacks? Pascal’s soap-opera ‘filling in ‘what-happened-previously’ style and character-rich plots are all there in spadefuls. There’s also sex and ‘language’, just to remind you that it’s not the eighties and you’re not twelve years old. I must admit that when I first read about Elizabeth and an orgasm in the same sentence, I thought “Ewww…”. That said, it’s all kept relatively abstract –
“His skin was hot and smooth, and she could feel the intensity of his need. And now hers, flooding her body with waves of heat and longing.”
One thing I did note was that the twins haven’t aged as quickly as me. When I was reading in my early teens, Elizabeth and Jessica were about sixteen. And yet now, at the age of forty (eek), the twins are thirty. How did that happen?!
Pink, ‘sweet’ and ‘cool’ – Sweet Valley goes with watermelon sorbet.
3/5 The series is not going to win a Pulitzer. But do you think Pascal cares? I’d say not. The stories are ridiculous but for Sweet Valley High fans from the eighties… go on… you know you want to.