The Sweet Valley High Series   

The Sweet Valley High Series
—created by Francine Pascal

The Sweet Valley High Series was created by Francine Pascal and has been written by multiple ghostwriters under the pseudonym of Kate William.  This series revived the girls' series genre during the 1980s.  It is a series that holds no appeal to anybody who never read it as a preteen, but for those who did, the series has an intense nostalgic appeal.

For women, such as myself, who were preteen girls in 1983, the Sweet Valley High series was everything that a girl could want in a book.  SVH was very important to me at that time, and I have fond memories of reading the books.  I read these books at about the time I stopped reading Nancy Drew books and around 5 to 7 years before I rediscovered my interest in Nancy Drew and began to collect series books.  In this section, I will attempt to give an overview of why the series so strongly appealed to me and other girls of my age.

SVH, Nancy Drew, and the Perfect World

The Sweet Valley series has much in common with Nancy Drew and other Stratemeyer Syndicate books.  The Stratemeyer Syndicate books feature characters who are just about perfect, are popular at school, win at just about everything, can take multiple vacations, have their own transportation, and have all the spending money that a teenager needs.  The Wakefield twins of Sweet Valley are the most popular girls in school, are described as the most beautiful teenage girls imaginable, have their own car, have handsome boyfriends, and everything else a girl could possibly want.

The Wakefield twins are the daughters of Ned and Alice Wakefield.  I believe that Ned Wakefield's name directly refers to Ned Nickerson of the Nancy Drew series.  Additionally, Ned Wakefield is an attorney, just like Nancy Drew's father, Carson Drew.  The Wakefields live a comfortable upper-middle class existence, thus making them better than the snobbish wealthy elite, better than the poor, and very appealing to the average middle class girl.  The target audience for the SVH series was the middle class preteen girl of the 1980s, and the target audience for the original Nancy Drew books was the middle class preteen/teen girl of the 1930s.  The two series share the same target audience, but separated by 50 years.

The early Sweet Valley High books exclusively feature white people, very unrealistic of our society.  There are two characters that sound vaguely ethnic, Ricky Capaldo and Maria Santelli, but nothing is mentioned of their ethnicity in the early volumes.  In volume 21, readers learn that Ricky is Italian.  Volume 22 introduces the series' first African American character.  In the first 20 books, Sweet Valley is exclusively white.  This is important because it is another similarity to the early Nancy Drew books and other Syndicate books.  The Syndicate books feature nearly all white people, and the few ethnic characters speak with exaggerated accents and are often ridiculed.  While ethnic characters are absent from the early Sweet Valley books, people who are different from the Wakefields and their closest friends are often ridiculed and shown to be inferior to the Wakefields.  Amy Benfer writes:

In practically every novel, some hapless outside family is held up to, and falls pitifully short of, the Wakefield ideal.  Some, like classmate Bruce Patman's family, are snobbish old money . . . Others, like Lila Fowler and her father . . . display the gaucherie of the nouveau riche.  And throughout the series, many of the "social lessons" learned by the girls come at the expense of families who [mess] up:  the poor alcoholic parents; the rich parents who work too much; divorced parents who refuse to let their children see their grandparents; stepchildren; and foster children.

The Wakefield family is the perfect American family, and all of the other Sweet Valley families fall short of the perfection of the Wakefield family.  The same scenario occurs in the Nancy Drew series.  Nancy Drew is the perfect girl and all other girls fall short of Nancy Drew's qualities.  The Wakefields' world is as idealized and unrealistic as Nancy Drew's world.  In both the Wakefields' world and Nancy Drew's world, poor people are to be pitied.  Sometimes Nancy Drew helps poor people, but when she does, it is usually revealed that the poor person came from good lineage and became poor as a victim of circumstance.  This same idea is present in the Sweet Valley series.  The series is sympathetic to dirt-poor Roger Barrett who has to work as a janitor after school each day, and later it is revealed that Roger is actually one of the rich Patmans and is from good lineage.

The Allure of Sweet Valley

Just like with any other series, readers get to return to their favorite characters over and over again.  The characters become like old friends.  But with the Sweet Valley series, readers also want to be just like the characters, in both appearance and personality.  The cover art, painted by James Mathewuse, is a large factor in the success of the series.

I was a preteen when the series debuted in 1983, and so was Amy Benfer.  Ms. Benfer writes that the SVH cover art seemed to be the most satisfying form of pornography . . . I would stare for hours at the cover of Sweet Valley High novels, as if they were catalogs and I could literally shop for a perfect self.

Oh yes—and I did, too!  I especially loved the cover of volume 2, and I remember that on one day I spent hours trying to draw a copy of the cover in pencil on a sheet of white paper.  I thought that the twins were the most beautiful people I had ever seen!  I wished that I could look just like them!

Not only did we want to look like the Sweet Valley characters, we wanted to be the Sweet Valley characters, especially the Wakefield twins who are so beautiful, so popular, and so much fun.  We have the choice of Jessica, the fun twin who is always getting into trouble, and Elizabeth, the serious twin who is the one everyone goes to for advice.  When I read the books, I wanted to be like Elizabeth, since I felt that there were more similarities to my personality.  However, I loved reading about Jessica, and her antics are so much fun!  In fact, Jessica is the true star of the series and takes center stage in most volumes.  Much of what Jessica does is portrayed in a humorous way and is hilarious to read.  Amazingly, no matter what kind of trouble Jessica finds, she is always able to escape unscathed.

The Impact of Sweet Valley

The success of the Sweet Valley High series has had a huge impact on series books, both good and bad.  The series revived the genre during the 1980s, and this is certainly good.  The negative impact of the series is how it changed the format of series book titles.  SVH uses short, vague titles that reveal nothing about the plot of the book.  The Nancy Drew Files and Hardy Boys Casefiles series were created as a result of the widespread success of SVH, and unfortunately, both series opted to copy the title format of the SVH books.  Many of the recent Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys books still use the short, vague titles, causing us to wish that the books would return to the richly descriptive titles of yesterday!

Cover Art, Summaries, and Quotes

My interest in the Sweet Valley series is only in the early volumes, #1 through around #35, plus the 6 Super Editions that were published during that time.  The series ran for many years and for 143 titles.  Since I am repulsed by what the series became in its later years and equally repulsed by the spinoff series, I now understand exactly how baby boomers who read the original text Nancy Drew books feel about the revised text Nancy Drew books that I read as a child.  The higher-numbered Sweet Valley books are not the Sweet Valley books that I knew, so I have no interest in them.

On the below pages, you will find summaries, subplots, and humorous quotes from the books.  Nancy Drew fans will want to take a look at the quotes from volume 26.

I offer my apologies to hardcore SVH fans; you will have to go elsewhere for information concerning volumes 36 and up as well as the various spinoff series.

Volumes 1-10

Volumes 11-20

Volumes 21-30

Volumes 31-35

Super Editions #1-6

Quotes by Amy Benfer taken from her article, The Training Bras of Literature, published in The Believer, Vol. 1, No. 9, December 2003/January 2004.
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