Sweet Valley Confidential: A Critical Analysis

7 Apr

Today, in a Very Special Blog Post, we’re going to talk about the epic, eagerly-anticipated Sweet Valley Confidential, the new novel by Francine Pascal that catches up with Jessica, Elizabeth, and the rest of the gang from Sweet Valley.  There are a lot of great, detailed recaps out there about this book already, so I’m going to keep my actual recap brief and focus on my response to the story itself.  Here we go, Gentle Readers.

Summary:

Elizabeth is living in New York and working for an online magazine that’s a sort of Zagat-guide for off-Broadway plays.  She’s been living in NYC for eight months, since she discovered that Jessica and Todd were having an affair.  Broken-hearted and really, really pissed off, Liz doesn’t seem to have made many friends or done much with her life since moving across the country.  When her mother calls her and asks her to come home for her grandmother’s 80th birthday party, Liz decides to go and bring a handsome bartender named Liam to try to distract Jessica.

Meanwhile, Jessica and Todd are engaged and living together.  They’ve been trying to deal with the fallout from the big reveal, but it isn’t going well.  Nearly everyone is angry with them, and most people just want them around so they can get gossip about what’s happening.  Jessica wonders if Liz will ever forgive her, and she angsts about whether or not she should give up Todd in order to win Liz back.

Liz shows up with Liam for the birthday party, and it’s pretty awkward.  Liam ends up being quite taken with Jessica, which pisses Elizabeth off, even though it was pretty much her plan.  Todd gets jealous about how much attention Liam is paying Jessica.  Elizabeth and Jessica snipe at each other, and everyone argues.

Liz goes back to New York, but not before she’s a total bitch to Liam.  Jessica and Todd fight, and when Todd falls asleep, Jessica leaves him.

Liz sleeps with Will Connolly, the playwright whose show she’s covering.  This is, apparently, the action Liz needed to get over Todd, because when she gets home and finds Jessica sitting at her door, she allows her in and the two make up.  Todd goes to New York to get Jessica.

Liz attends Jessica and Todd’s wedding, which is back on.  Before the wedding Bruce Patman tells Liz he’s moving to New York because he’s in love with someone who lives there.  She gets sad until he tells her it’s her, and then they have perfect sex.  Everyone lives happily ever after.

(Totally QUALIFIED) Critical Analysis:

For most of my life, I have been a fan of the world of Sweet Valley.  When I was little, I’d check Sweet Valley High novels out of the library and hide them under my bed because my mom thought they were too mature for my eight-year-old eyes and brain.  My sister and I watched the TV show (and loved it for all its terrible camp).  When I started collecting SVH novels 3-4 years ago, my interest in the books was more ironic than before, but still a genuine interest.  These are characters that I’ve grown up with and have come to know (and hate) extremely well.  This blog has been a testament to how much I love/hate the series, and it’s also been a record of how excited I was for this book.

I often make the argument that when you’re too excited for something, it can’t possibly live up to the hype.  Some would argue that this might be what happened here, but I’m not so sure about that.  Like many of you, I read the first chapter when it was released online some months ago.  I participated in the discussion that went on about how terrible it seemed, and I knew that this book as a whole was not going to be winning any literary prizes.  But I can safely say, Gentle Readers, that after reading the whole book, I feel…disheartened.  Maybe even a little cheated.

This was not the Sweet Valley that we grew up with.

So much of the story and the characters felt wrong, like they didn’t quite fit into the Sweet Valley universe.  The entire time I was reading the story, I couldn’t shake the feeling of mild disgust, and there were times where I got physically upset.  This is, of course, indicative of a problem within myself, Readers.  I’m aware that I allowed myself to get worked up about the inconsistencies and blatant errors in the book.

There were some aspects of the story that rang mostly true: the twins’ parents are still fairly mild-mannered (which made Alice Wakefield’s outburst at the birthday party all the more hilarious), Sweet Valley is still pretty white-washed, and the twins are still gorgeous.  Bruce still drives a flashy car (shaped like a penis), and though Todd utters nary a “Gee,” he’s still a total tool.

However, the blatant mistakes rankled me.  Ricky Capaldo is the boy who saved Annie Whitman, not Charlie Markus (she hooks up with Charlie on the summer bike trip).  Regina Morrow did not die in the car crash over Christmas vacation, and her case of Multiple Sclerosis was actually misdiagnosed Mononucleosis.  Aaron Dallas was one of the best-looking boys at SVH, and now he’s just okay-looking?  Mr. Collins was so shaken with Suzanne Devlin’s accusations about him that he quit teaching?  When did that shit happen?  Was it retroactive?

There were also weird inconsistencies within the book itself.  Near the beginning, Jessica mentions that Jeffrey French is married, but he’s clearly single at her wedding.  When we’re given an update on the (now-apparently-dead) Suzanne Devlin, the phrase “six years” is used to describe her return trip, but I’m pretty sure Francine Pascal meant “six months”.  Also, the flashbacks were confusing (and really, really boring), but I’m pretty sure there were some serious problems with the timeline readers were given.

Of course, all of these things are part of the Sweet Valley Universe.  Inconsistencies and errors are the way the books work, and it’s partially why we love them.  The inability of the ghost writers or the editors to keep the story straight (while thousands of readers do so, gleefully) is part of the books’ charm.  And yet.

The character decay that occurred in this book was unbelievable. Winston Egbert is now a total douche bag alone in his McMansion?  Bruce Patman underwent a complete character change overnight as the result of his parents’ tragic death?  His bestie is Elizabeth Wakefield?  Steven Wakefield is gay (that one almost works for me), and his life partner ends up being Aaron Dallas?  What the actual fuck?

It didn’t work for me, Gentle Readers.  I can’t help but feel like the Internet could have (and probably has, somewhere) come up with a better update on the characters.  I kind of want to declare the book anathema.

Also?  The writing was terrible.  Like, really, really bad.  Full of purple prose and weird word choices.  It hurt to read it.

What did you think, Readers?  Am I totally off-base?  Did I get some of it right?  Did you enjoy it at all?

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13 Responses to “Sweet Valley Confidential: A Critical Analysis”

  1. Kristen April 7, 2011 at 1:58 pm #

    I thought it was horrendous. I posted a review of it on my blog: http://pancakesaspillows.blogspot.com/2011/04/sweet-valley-confidential-review.html

  2. liesel April 8, 2011 at 2:57 am #

    wow! I think ‘character decay’ is probably the best i’ve heard anyone put it.
    You are definitely not the only one! I’ve been compiling info like a crazy mofo – for months on end – for the site I co-run, ever since St. Martins gave the official SVC go-ahead last year…and needless to say, i feel like all the excitement’s been for something which doesn’t even remotely live up to the hype & build up.
    Horrible writing! Poor storyline direction & pure lack of consideration to any of the characters. Like most out there, i’m going to pretend this book doesn’t exist.

  3. snarkvalley April 10, 2011 at 6:11 pm #

    I thought the book was horrendous. I completely agree with you, the prose itself was terribly written. That’s not even getting into the character assassination, glaring continuity errors, and complete absence of some crucial characters. (Um, where is Amy Sutton?) I was really disappointed by it. I am in the process of ripping it a new one in my blog now!

    • snarkvalley April 10, 2011 at 6:12 pm #

      Oh yeah, and that thing you mentioned with Jeffrey being married, then not married was hysterically bad! I thought my eyes must have gone bad when I got to the Epilogue and read that he was at the wedding with Lila! That might be the best continuity error within one book since Annie Sue Sawyer had a sister, then became an only child in Spring Fever!

      • Clementine Bojangles April 10, 2011 at 6:14 pm #

        ohhh man i had forgotten about annie sue sawyer and the disappearing sibling. it was so awesome.

        and i’m glad i’m not the only one who was so disappointed with this book, for real.

  4. April April 12, 2011 at 3:00 am #

    I haven’t read SVC yet, but based on what everyone thought of the book, I think I don’t wanna read the book anymore. I’ll just buy the book to add it to my SV Collection but that’s it. I wanna remember Sweet Valley just the way it was before and not that bad excuse of a book. It’s sad, because all our excitement for the book has disappeared and replaced by how angry and disappointed we are at this book

    • Ashley April 18, 2011 at 8:15 am #

      I think this book is a perfect example of why they immediately took away actual authordom from Francine Pascal (seriously, wasn’t it after the third book that they farmed out the writing to ten or so ghost writers) and let her keep credit. She created something iconic (imho), but letting her helm the ship would create disastrous results, a la SVC.

      • Clementine Bojangles April 21, 2011 at 10:32 am #

        What’s weird is that Pascal has written and published other YA novels. She seems fairly intelligent in interviews (I’ve even heard her interviewed on the radio), so I don’t understand why her writing is so clunky and awkward.

        I think she originally pitched the first six books to the packager and then ghost writers took over. The details about how much input she actually had have always been fuzzy, though, and that’s totally intentional.

        Agreed on creating something iconic, though.

  5. BiblioNinja April 21, 2011 at 9:40 am #

    This book was truly horrible. An absolute insult to SVH fans. How this crap even got published to begin with is the real question. The ONLY good part was finding out that Steven Wakefield was gay. It would have been a much better book if HE were the one to steal Todd from Liz! And BTW – Jess outing her own brother? Really? That’s LOW, even for her.

  6. aubynpeach June 6, 2011 at 11:39 am #

    I totally agree that this was crappy. I believe I read in an interview that this was the first SVH book she actually wrote and she wanted to write this one because she wanted to give it something special or whatever, sadly that something special was crapass writing and not even knowing her own characters enough to keep them straight. Lily was always a bit snobbby but to reduce her to a Real Housewife is where you figure out that Francine doesn’t know us at all. Most of us love Lila and her confidence and ability to say what was on our minds. I will say that Jess telling Cara about Steven was actually not the worst thing, how can people stand around and let someone cheat or lie to their significant other. Cara was her best friend in HS. Also, hearing Alice say the F word did make the book worth reading, but not by much.

  7. TripleB July 16, 2011 at 10:06 pm #

    Hang on, you mean Suzanne Devlin, not Regina Morrow right? (In regards to the MS/not MS/car crash bit). Regina was the OMG DRUGS KILL YOU storyline.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. (#26) Book Review: Sweet Valley Confidential by Francine Pascal « Early Nerd Special - April 8, 2011

    […] (Blogger’s note: I also covered the release of this book extensively at my other blog.  A full rundown of what I thought of the book can be found there.) […]

  2. SVH: Jessica’s Secret Diary, Vol. I | A Critical Analysis of Sweet Valley's Most Famous Twins - July 18, 2014

    […] not about Jessica at all.  Same thing with the book about Aaron Dallas’s anger issues (repressed homosexuality?  RIGHT?) and his girlfriend Heather’s baby voice.  UGH GOD WHY DO THEY HAVE TO DO THE BOOKS […]

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