Review: Sweet Valley Confidential, by Francine Pascal

I told you I’d read it. Yes, it was beyond awful. Not a bad idea as a money-maker (I mean, the author must have known that people like me who read the books when we were thirteen would come flocking back out of morbid curiosity if nothing else), but as a story, it pretty much sucked. Basically, this “adult novel” meets up with the twins ten years after high school. They’re twenty-seven now, which means they’re exactly my age, which means I feel old.

What passes for a plot involves an illicit affair between Jessica and her twin sister Elizabeth’s boyfriend-since-the-beginning-of-time, Todd. The two fall in love, Elizabeth finds out, tells them both what they can do to themselves and escapes to New York, where she meanders through the kind of depressing, tiny-apartment-filled life that apparently characterizes any sort of existence outside of Southern California. For a while, all she thinks about is revenge, but soon she starts the long, laborious (and not just for the character) process of forgiveness, at the end of which she agrees to be the maid of honor at her sister’s wedding to Todd and falls in love with her erstwhile enemy and now-best-friend Bruce Patman (he of the 1Bruce1 Porsche vanity plate). The thing is, while I was actually on board with the Elizabeth-Bruce pairing (I never liked Todd), the book pretty much failed as an exercise in nostalgia and amounted to nothing more than a cheesy romance novel that just happened to include characters with the same names as those in a book series I was obsessed with as a teenager. Condemning Francine Pascal for her abysmal writing almost seems beside the point, since that was never exactly her claim to fame, but really, she could have tried a little harder to make the thing even halfway believable.  

As a general rule, I despise fictional inconsistencies (I’m one of those people who condemned the Friends writers because they forgot how many people Ross claimed he slept with before Rachel), but I’m willing to accept that Francine Pascal isn’t going to go back and reread all the Sweet Valley High books her ghostwriters penned in the eighties. But to screw up details chapter to chapter in the same book? There’s no excuse for that. One of the peripheral characters is married in Chapter Two, then suddenly “never married” in the epilogue. I mean, really? Does she have no respect for the craft??

Then there’s the fact that the “epilogue,” a where-are-they-now rundown, left out some of the more prominent characters in favor of random supporting characters that appeared in the very beginning of the series, no doubt to coincide with those books’ recent re-releases. They’ve been fully updated to account for new-millennium parlance and zeitgeist, apparently—Jessica says “like” a lot, the twins have gone from a “perfect size 6” to a “perfect size 4,” and the school paper has become the school website. Seriously. To sum up, despite all the sheepish anticipation surrounding this book, it was a big big disappointment, as I knew it would be. Maybe Diablo Cody’s film adaptation will do the job right.

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