Sunday, April 3, 2011

review: sweet valley confidential by francine pascal

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My formative years included the Wakefield twins. I read almost every book (I did read every SVH, SVU, and Elizabeth book) and owned the board game, so I was beyond excited when Sweet Valley Confidential was announced. The “Ten Years Later” subtitle refers to the end of SVH rather than SVU, so Jessica and Elizabeth are now 27. The book opens with a very pissed off Elizabeth trying to make it in New York after discovering that Jessica and Todd are having an affair. Meanwhile Jessica and Todd are in Sweet Valley somewhat ostracized, but still in touch with the old gang. Because of my long history with Sweet Valley, this review is a bit different (and much longer). I’ve kept the spoilers to a minimum (nothing from the latter half of the book). So let’s get started!

Oh Francine, did you ever like (as you seem to think Jessica would say) look back at what all those ghostwriters wrote under your name? It wouldn't have taken much more than a little Google search to find two fabulous recappers (Forever Young Adult and Shannon's Sweet Valley Blog) who could've helped. Continuity is a major issue with Sweet Valley Confidential (even within the book’s plot itself—Bruce and Elizabeth are said to have bonded during their last year of college, but by the end of the book it’s become “ten years ago”). So let's look back at some plot points from SVH and SVU (both series have plots that make it into Confidential, so I don't believe it's unfair to point out these flubs).

First let's do some ages. Bruce is a year older than the twins; their brother’s already in college during SVH. In Confidential, Steven is a year older while Bruce graduated with the twins. Also, the name of Lila’s father is changed as is the name of the son of their Robert Redford lookalike high school teacher. Minor details, but obvious to fans who are the audience.

Much of what happened later on in SVH is completely ignored with most references coming from the first book, Double Love (which Francine apparently wrote most of, so I guess she feels it’s the best). There's no devastating earthquake (the way the SVH series ended) since Jessica makes the statement, “Downtown Sweet Valley hasn’t changed that much since my high school days. The big changes happened before, in the late eighties.” There’s also no "Hey, remember evil Margo?" which I immediately thought of when Elizabeth sees that Will (her New York love interest) is a dead ringer for Todd. The SVU acknowledgment is more scattered than SVH with Jessica's disastrous first marriage (Jessica already has a second failed marriage by Confidential), Elizabeth's time in NYC, and Todd's early college struggles all included. But Enid is Enid even though she changed to Alexandra for college; her alcoholism is, however, brought up. Not warranting mentions are Lila's first marriage, Steven's almost marriage to Billie, and the time Elizabeth ran off to London (after a Jessica boyfriend at least that's consistent!). However, both of Elizabeth’s serious college boyfriends (yes, including the one from the Jessica betrayal that ended the SVU series) are referenced.

With all of those SVU references, you would think some of them would be invited to the wedding. They’re not. Only high school friends (including those long forgotten by the end of SVH) make it into Confidential. But that's ok because the true focus is the Elizabeth/Jessica/Todd triangle. That triangle, however, is problematic. Going back to the SVU betrayal, Jessica’s motivation is keeping in character; she believed Sam wasn’t good enough for Elizabeth. But here? I find it hard to believe Jessica would fall in love with Todd. She realized back in high school that he was a bore; plus, this isn’t a best of intentions just going about it all wrong sort of treachery. This is a completely selfish move. Being that Jessica was always my favorite, I was disappointed with Confidential. Elizabeth, on the other hand, seemed right on. What she does here is exactly what she did in college and she still has that same self-righteous attitude. So I have mixed feelings about Confidential. It’s really a book about Elizabeth, so most (excepting the continuity problems) is spot on…but I have a hard time getting past the decimation of Jessica. In all though, it was great to take another trip with the Wakefield twins.
Review copy provided Get Red PR.

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