Such was one of the more important questions that separated the girls of St. Francis de Sales grade school. If you were a Jessica, go to side A. Elizabeth, side B.
“Even though the two sixth-grade girls both had long blond hair that glinted in the sunlight, aquamarine eyes, and tiny dimples in each left cheek, they were really very different. Jessica liked to talk about boys and clothes, and always wanted to have as much fun as possible. Elizabeth liked more serious things — reading and writing and long talks with a good friend.”
You can guess which one I was. And still am.
My mom recently cleaned out her attic, and gave me boxes of books to sort through. One was full of Sweet Valley Twins books. I was obsessed with the adventures of Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield for a solid 10 years, starting with the twins, moving into the high school years and then onto the Legacy books, which were probably what you could call a gateway drug into my Nora Roberts obsession, which I wrote about for book 21 of 52.
I wanted to keep the books, but what use did I have for them now? So I took book, two, Teacher’s Pet and the rest went to the library where maybe some girl too wholesome for Gossip Girl will enjoy the plight of one twin vs. the other.
The major conflict here was who would get to dance the solo in the recital. It’s quickly obvious that Jessica is the better dancer, but she shows up like a hussie to the first recital, which instantly makes the teacher dislike her.
OK, no one says “hussie” in Sweet Valley, but judge for yourself:
“Jessica thought back to the first day of ballet class. She had wanted to make a good impression on Madame that day, she she’d dressed up in a new purple leotard and purple leg warmers, and pinned her hair back with barrettes that had purple ribbons hanging from them. She’d eve put on some makeup so that Madame Andre would be sure to notice her. Madam had certainly noticed her. A look of shock had crossed her face when Jessica entered the room. In front of everyone Madame scolded her for showing off.”
Of course Madam loves Elizabeth. She is a model student and brainiac, which is of course why I would answer “Elizabeth” to that initial question. She was also a writer for the middle school paper — and even though I didn’t know I wanted to be a writer at the time, I toyed around with writing short stories on my mom’s typewriter (usually Sweet Valley knock offs) and always read, even if Sweet Valley wasn’t exactly taxing. I still remember the first time I read one of the books in a day — I had started reading on the beach, took it back to the campground pool, and after showers while waiting for dinner, turned the last page. I was amazed. And thought reading it had been way too easy, which is when I switched to the Sweet Valley High series. I considered it the epitome of sophistication that I was only in middle school when I jumped up a Francine Pascal level. I reached its height at the Legacy series, which even had references to sex. Grown up stuff!
Two more random memories: There were twins in my grade school class. One girl copied the summary of the book for her book report. And I turned her in. Yes, I was a snitch. Another group of girls tried to form a Unicorn Club within our grade — the same kind of snobby clique that Jessica belonged to in the book. A requirement of being in the Unicorn Club was that you had to wear one purple thing a day. That didn’t exactly work with Catholic School uniforms.
Ever since Francine Pascal (who didn’t write all the books but created guidelines for ghostwriters) did an interview with Bust magazine back in spring 2005, there’s been talk of a Sweet Valley Heights series with the girls in their 30s. That name has since been changed to Sweet Valley Confidential, but I can’t find any more information about it. Maybe it’ll come out in time for my 30th birthday.
So do you have any Sweet Valley memories? Or were you a Babysitter’s Club kind of person? I never got into the latter, or the R.L. Stein stuff. What about you?
“Aping the latest trends, on the other hand, not only pins the girls to our own uncomfortable era but also invokes moments of head-shaking at the SVH czars’ lack of pop-culture perfect pitch — as when Winston Egbert establishes his geek cred by invoking Heroes. Oh my, no. Winston Egbert would so obviously watch Battlestar.”
Thanks to reader Stephanie for pointing that out!