Double Love and Secrets by Francine Pascal

Random House is re-releasing the Sweet Valley High series, with updated references (this means cell phones and Elizabeth writes for the website instead of the newspaper) and character descriptions (this means “perfect size four” rather than “perfect size six”). In honor of this glorious event, I would like to share a treasured photo with you. I had the Sweet Valley High board game, you see, and it was a point of contention between me and my dad. I am not completely sure about the details, but I am pretty sure that he did not approve of Sweet Valley High in general (though he did let me read them), and he wasn’t really a board game kind of guy. Card games, yes. Board games, not so much. And, finally, the game required that you steal other players’ boyfriends as you collected all the things you needed for your big date. There was no way he was going to play a game like that.

But. We had a habit of betting things for the Carolina/Duke game. At some point, we made a wager that, if Duke lost, he had to play Sweet Valley High: The Board Game with me. Duke did, in fact, lose that game. He had to play Sweet Valley High with me, complete with boyfriend stealing. And I took a picture of it. With my polaroid camera. Which I now share with all of you.

Stealing boyfriends from other players gave him physical pain. But I made him do it anyway.

Obviously, I was quite excited to read the updated version, if only to revisit good old Sweet Valley High. The Dairi Burger, a site that is rereading and reviewing old Sweet Valley High books, thinks that maybe the 80s yuppie culture won’t translate to today’s audiences. The site specifically talks about the obsession with the rich and how that won’t really translate to today’s youth . . . to which I say, “Have you SEEN how popular Gossip Girl is?” What is Gossip Girl about other than class issues and spying on the lives of rich people? And there’s the Clique series (rich private school girls) and the It Girl series (I don’t know what that one’s about, but I am going to guess people who are rich and/or famous), and . . . you get the idea.

In case you don’t know, the Sweet Valley High series features beautiful twins Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield, who are 16 and attend Sweet Valley High with their beautiful friends. Jessica is the “bad twin,” who is inconsiderate and selfish and boy-crazy, while Elizabeth, the “good twin,” works on the newspaper (excuse me, website) and is responsible and considerate. (I always liked Elizabeth better.) They like boys and go to parties and there are hints of sex but nothing ever really happens. Well, this one time, Bruce Patman untied the top of Jessica’s bathing suit, which I found racy at the time. But now I look at the things going on in Gossip Girl, and the bikini top seems kind of tame. Because of that, I think it’s a good choice for middle school – it has the high school drama without some of the material that makes Gossip Girl and its ilk inappropriate for that age.

Because the girls at my school love the Clique series, I have read some of them myself, and I was bothered by the way the girls in that series treat each other. When girls ask for it, if it’s not checked in, I have been known to say, “Wouldn’t you rather read a series where the girls are nice to each other?” and give them The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants instead. Because of my discomfort with some of that, I wondered how Sweet Valley High would measure up now that I am a little bit older. After reading Double Love and Secrets, I have to say that they are pretty much just as I remember them. Though Jessica is catty and selfish and conniving, she often gets her comeuppance. Additionally, the presence of Elizabeth balances out the story a little bit more, and I would be much more comfortable giving these to my middle schoolers than the Clique series, where everyone is just mean to each other all the time.

I hope, as they are updating Sweet Valley High, that they give the series more diversity. The Dairi Burger was right in that one of the major themes was class, which was a little bit more applicable in the 80s . . . I hope that can be expanded so that the series also deals with race and ethnicity as well. Overall, though, I enjoyed this trip down memory lane. I enjoyed it so much that I got out the old board game.

Much to Mike’s chagrin. Well, that’s what he said at first, but then he got into the spirit of it. He played as Jessica, the “bad twin,” and he really embodied the character. He took what used to be a simple game and added some serious scheming.

OMG! He stole my boyfriend!

And, uh, then he won. I am filled with shame. I will distract you by posting that picture of my dad again, just because I can.

The rest of the Sweet Valley High pictures are here!

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