What follows is my review of Double Love, the new re-make edition, and the resulting discussion Katie and I had about our reading experience.
I didn't grow up reading Sweet Valley High, so I felt compelled to read the first book in the series, Double Love, now that the re-issue editions are available. Originally published in 1983, Random House had someone go through the novels and update them for a more modern audience, adding things like cell phones, laptops, and updated car models. The cover is updated too, obviously, but they've used the same model twice for the twins! I don't mind the cover image because, again, I didn't grow up reading SVH, so I don't have a basis for what the Wakefield twins look like.
I want to start out by saying that Jessica is my favourite twin. She's a spaz and is ridiculous at times, but I just like her. The whole them being twins thing and everyone not being able to tell the difference most of the time was very silly at times. It's mentioned at the beginning that the only thing that sets them apart is a tiny mole on a shoulder, their clothing preferences and one of them wears a watch consistently. "Oh yeah, that's Elizabeth, you can always ask her the time". The story opens with Jessica checking herself out in the mirror when Elizabeth jumps in the shower to get ready for school and Todd Wilkins phones, looking for Liz. This is when you get a sense of how potentially evil Jessica can be. She initially has little interest in Todd, until she finds out he likes her sister, then her frenemy side comes out at she tries to hook Todd for herself. She tells him that Liz is both a bookworm school-obsessed nerd and a promiscuous man-eater. And Todd, the goon, never questions her. Here's a sneak-peek to see just how hot Todd is:
Elizabeth's knees actually felt weak as she looked into his warm brown eyes. She wished she had something to lean on. Something other than his gorgeous, athletic, tan bod.
Okay so I just wanted to write the word "bod". And preppy, which is how Todd is constantly described as. I totally remember when people dressed "preppy". Jessica is a piece of work. She latches onto Todd and says anything just to keep his attention away from Elizabeth. Her own SISTER! And they're friends in the book, which makes it more evil-seeming. Except, the great thing about Jess' character is that she just does what she does without any thought whatsoever. You can't blame her for the way she acts because it's not an act; this is Jessica Wakefield. Even when she's spreading rumors that a boy has raped her when he refused to kiss her goodnight at the end of their date, Jess is insane, but true to her nature. And there's something redeeming about her as well; she knows what she wants and she gets it, usually. Then she gets bored of it and moves on very quickly. Here's some redeeming Jessica Wakefield (Todd is at the dance with her but he's been eyeing Liz all night when...):
Why don't you go see what Elizabeth and Enid are talking about? From the look on your face you're dying to know."Todd blushed slightly and Jessica brushed by him, heading for the snack table and a few friends gathered there. If that didn't wake Todd up to his rude behaviour--if there wasn't a complete turnaround by the time she got back--then she was just going to have to take drastic measures. Guys didn't look at other girls when they were out with Jessica Wakefield. It simply was not done.
What self-confidence! Jess has this incredible sense of her self-worth, which is inflated, but this type of confidence is enviable! Even if she wastes it on silly things like thinking she wants guys like Rick Andover, this psycho dropout car-racing drunk, to go out with her. Throughout the whole story, Jessica pretends she's Elizabeth whenever she does something bad or dangerous and then tells Todd that this is typical Liz behaviour. I was surprised by how righteous Todd is in the book, and some of Liz's friends. And I felt that Liz should have channeled Jess a little more when it comes to making boys treat you the way you deserve, i.e. Todd should have been put through the ringer about just blankly accepting that Liz was the way Jess described. He just got all hoity and judgy and didn't even speak with Liz directly, although Jess had been so intense about her conquest she rarely let the two have a moment alone together.
Double Love was pleasantly goofy in parts, too. I was laughing where humour probably wasn't intended. I couldn't help myself; some of the scenarios and dialogue are hilarious. Even though it has been updated, Sweet Valley High still has an 80's sensibility; reading it felt like I was in my PJs watching a weekend marathon of Beverley Hills 90210, especially the "Donna Martin Graduates!" episode.
A chat with Katie:
(Mandy) You mention Betsy in your review. I don't remember her at all. Is she in the first book? Who is she? I wonder if the updated version wrote her out?
(Katie) Betsy's the girl that the twins think Steven is going out with. (He's actually going out with her older sister, Tricia, scandal!) She's the typical wrong side of the tracks girl with a drug history, etc. She's a reoccurring character, becoming more important in later installments of the book. (She's in the updated version, but just mentioned passingly.)
(Mandy) Oh yeah!! That part was so funny. Reading, I didn't care at all about Steven's supposedly secret affair. Then when the girls find out that it's not with Betsy, who is considered a trashy drug-addict like her father, but with Tricia, the girls are like "well actually Trish is okay, we approve". It was hilarious, like no stigma had attached itself to Trish even though they came down on Betsy so hard about her dad being a drug dealer or something like that. So silly.
(Katie) Well, Trish is the angel of that family -- of course she gets a pass. Just wait until you find out what happens to her character in the series though!**
(Mandy) How does the Dairi Burger compare to Casa Del Sol, from the original story? Why do you think they would re-write such an iconic part of SVH? Even when they remade Beverley Hills 90210 they kept a version of The Peach Pit.
(Katie) They're pretty much the same, honestly. It's their local restaurant hang-out. But I think it's the most ridiculous change ever. What would "Saved by the Bell" be without The Max? What would "Buffy" be like without The Bronze? [Okay, I am seriously dating myself with these references.] What would "Grey's Anatomy" be without The Emerald City Bar? [Yay, current reference!] My issue with the change here is that the restaurant represents the old SVH for me (partially because of the fabulous re-read/critique blog, The Dairi Burger), and Casa Del Sol doesn't add anything to the new SVH. It doesn't establish setting. It doesn't modernize the text. I think the decision to change the restaurant was to show that the books have changed, have been updated. I'm just surprised they choose this to update. Have the twins wear Tiffany's heart charms instead of lavalieres. (I still remember not knowing what a lavaliere was as a teen in the nineties.) I just find it weird how they chose what to update versus what they kept.
(Mandy) Yeah, I have no idea what a lavaliere is. I just assumed they look like the silver necklaces the girls are wearing on the cover. I'm googling it now and still don't really know. How is it different than just a necklace? Although here's something interesting from Wikipedia: "In the Greek system in American colleges, it refers specifically to a necklace bearing a fraternity's or sorority's letters. An accepted gift of a lavalier, called lavaliering, indicates a romantic commitment that may develop into a long term engagement, and marriage". And Liz IS stuck with Jess for the long term!
(Katie) Very true! And it brings me a great segue to talk about the sorority/fraternity stuff in the original publication of "Double Love." Both Jessica and Elizabeth are accepted into Pi Beta Alpha in the book and the dance is originally a sorority/fraternity mixer sponsored by the fraternity. I remember, even as a tween in the 90s, knowing that there weren't sororities/fraternities in high school. I was actually really glad that they removed this subplot when they updated the books. Although I am curious how some of the more sorority related plot lines are going to be updated...**
(Mandy) Ghostwritten fiction was more popular in the 80's and 90's. I had to say that it was strange reading a book "written" by Francine Pascal, when it was really written by Kate William (which is a pseudonym). With the internet, readers can now follow author blogs and website updates; the role of the author is more immediate. Would a series like SVH, with its ghostwriters, happen today? Were you conscious of the book being ghostwritten as you re-read SVH?
(Katie) I had no idea the series was ghostwritten as a tween. I had no idea what a ghostwriter was (other than the PBS show...yeah), and I think it's because of my history with the books that it didn't bother me. I don't think a series like SVH would work now-a-days. Authors are so important to teens and the Internet makes it far too easy to find out about ghostwriters.
(Mandy) *singsong* Ghostwriter...WORD!
And there's more! Mosey over to Katie's blog to see her full review of Double Love, some more of our book gossip and a book giveaway for the new edition of SVH: Double Love! Both Katie and I have a copy of the book to give away. So leave your name and e-mail here to enter and then go to Katie's blog and enter again for her copy! Twice the chance to win--think of it as a tribute to the Wakefield Twins! Good Luck! (Giveaway ends November 21st)
P.S. Katie, you're awesome!!