I know I am a van of sweeping generalisations, but I have come to this conclusion through the rigorous research method of asking everyone I know if they read the SVH books, and if they are interested in the follow-up. It’s no secret that I loved the Sweet Valley High books as a teenager. And ever since I found out there was an update available, catching up with Jessica and Elizabeth ten years after their adventures were last recorded, I’ve wanted to get my hands on a copy.
Not that it would have been difficult, you understand. But I am too much of a book snob, and too easily embarrassed into a fetching shade of pillarbox, to just buy a copy and read it on the train. So when a kindly benefactor bought me a copy for my birthday, I wolfed it down. And here’s the thing. It is terrible. Terrible. But fun. The book equivalent, if you like, of a giant bag of fizzy sweets. So to save you from having to experience the literary equivalent of tooth decay and indigestion I have read it for you and am willing to share the secrets contained within.
But enough about the writing! What actually happens?
Elizabeth is living in New York, having run away from Sweet Valley when she found out that Jessica was having an affair with her long-standing boyfriend Todd. She has an apartment to herself, and is somehow managing to pay the rent by working on a freesheet that covers off-off-broadway shows (I need to move to New York; in my experience that kind of writing is done for free). The job brings her into contact with an improbable succession of handsome men, but they’re wasted on her – Lizzie is still so uptight she gets bladdered on one martini and cries after orgasm.
Meanwhile Jessica is moping around guiltily in California, planning her wedding to blank-slate heartthrob Todd. Flashbacks show they had a brief fling at college that was rekindled when Jessica fled her second husband, realising that life as another accessory on a millionaire’s yacht could never truly fulfill her. They were drawn together by the kind of irresistible force that usually pulls planets into black holes, although they don’t have a wet flannel’s worth of personality between them.
The estrangement is all very sad and moving (it’s not), and is predictably sorted out at the end with some tears and Elizabeth getting together with Bruce Patman, who is nice now, because his parents were killed in a car crash.
The old supporting cast crop up. Winston Egbert is dead, because he got rich off the back of some software innovation and thus became horrible. Death, disaster and ugliness are used as punishments for moral failings, as ever.
Steven (the twin’s older brother) is gay and shacked up with one of his old high school buddies. Lila is doing nothing but has had a load of plastic surgery. Robin Wilson is a chef, a career choice every. Single. Damn. Character who encounters her thinks is a “brave choice” because she “struggled with her weight in school” (I should point out this means she was fat, not that she had an eating disorder). This is what counts as character development in this universe. Everybody in California is still white, and there are no black people in New York either.
Overall, it was fun to read. But it was like looking up an old school friend on facebook and staring in horror at their racist status updates and hideous photos and remembering just why you lost touch. The nostalgia rush is strong, but I won’t be attending the next reunion.