Sweet Valley Confidential

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Sweet Valley Confidential by Francine Pascal, book review“Have you ever wondered what happened when Elizabeth and Jessica grew up?”

Until I read that tagline, I have to admit I hadn’t. But as soon as the idea was in my head, I was wondering. I recently started collecting Sweet Valley High books, and was amazed when I came across Sweet Valley Confidential on Amazon, a new book set ten years after the Wakefield twins graduated from high school, published April 2011.

As a pre-teen and teenager, I devoured Sweet Valley High books. I devoured pretty much any book I could get my hands on, but especially these stories of the sixteen year old beautiful blonde twins and their friends in picture perfect Sweet Valley, California. I also read a lot of the Sweet Valley Twins series, and began reading Sweet Valley University when it started.

In Sweet Valley Confidential, Elizabeth and Jessica are now twenty seven. A lot has changed since we last saw them. Jessica has committed the ultimate betrayal of her twin, and Elizabeth has fled to New York, pursuing her journalism dreams and hiding from the pain of what her twin has done.

Within pages, I was hooked. The story is immediately shocking, and for someone who grew up in the perfect world of Sweet Valley, it rocks you to the core and could be described as devastating. Perhaps you think I am being melodramatic, and maybe I am – but I grew up on these books, and I knew the characters better than I knew my friends. If you’ve read the blurb and wondered what Jessica could have done, thought of something and then said to yourself “no, that couldn’t be it” – well, you’re probably right.

The story alternates between Elizabeth in New York and Jessica in Sweet Valley, and flashbacks from both are included to build up the story. We are reminded of things which happened in high school and university, and some gaps are filled in for the years since. There are, however, some errors in these. The most obvious for me was the very first flashback, when Elizabeth is recalling a drive to high school which so happened to be almost the opening of the first SVH book, Double Love. In the flashback, Jessica is forced to travel to school with Elizabeth as she is not allowed to drive following an accident. They pick up Elizabeth’s friend Enid, and then Jessica hops out to get in Bruce Patman’s car. Having not long reread Double Love, I know some of this is incorrect – Enid didn’t travel with them, and Jessica didn’t get into Bruce’s car.

This novel is actually written by Francine Pascal, whose name was all over the previous series but as creator, not the author. She did not write the Sweet Valley series, and so I wonder if she actually did her research on what happened during those series before writing this novel. Whether it is her writing or the fact that this is a novel written more for adults, the style is noticeably more mature. There are less short sentences and paragraphs than in the books for younger readers, and there is more depth revealed about the characters and their stories.

However, to go back to the flashbacks, most of these are fine and play a very important part in the story. The present of the novel is taking place after the earth-shattering event which caused Elizabeth to leave Sweet Valley, and so the flashbacks do much of the storytelling.

As the book goes one, we also hear a little from other characters, all of whom we know well from the previous Sweet Valley series – Todd Wilkins, Bruce Patman, the twins brother Steven Wakefield. From each character we learn more about their present, and there are flashbacks to help us see how they got to that point. In addition to the characters who tell their story directly, we also hear a lot about other characters through gossip – and not much of it is good. So many people haven’t turned out how you would have expected them to, and there are a lot of sad stories.

“I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Sweet Valley Confidential to fans.”

I found all the events of Sweet Valley Confidential shocking and almost difficult to read about. When I was younger, I wanted to live in a town like that, to be beautiful and popular, so to see these characters struggling with grown up life was quite sad for me. And especially because it seems unlikely that any will have a happy ending. However, I soon realised that this is what sets Sweet Valley Confidential apart from the rest of the Sweet Valley books – life is no longer a fairy tale, and this is a more grown-up concept than any that was explored in the books for younger readers. Like its readers, Sweet Valley and the people we know so well have grown up. Life isn’t a picture perfect Californian high school, and that is reflected in the events of this novel.

At the end of the novel is an epilogue, which contains the very final part of the story, and updates on all the characters we knew from Sweet Valley High, entitled “For All Sweet Valley Fans of Old”. While many of these characters may not have featured in the story of Sweet Valley Confidential, many were important in Sweet Valley High, and so Pascal obviously wanted to tie up their stories – perhaps for herself as much as for her reader. I loved this section, even though many of the characters have not had it easy since we last saw them in the corridors of Sweet Valley High. It turned out it was important to me to know what had happened to everyone, not just the main players. This section provided an ending, not only to this novel, but to Sweet Valley overall.

It goes without saying that this is a novel for the fans, for the thousands (maybe millions? I don’t know) who grew up alongside Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield. If you didn’t read Sweet Valley High, you will have no interest in Sweet Valley Confidential.

I am in two minds about having read this. It was an excellent story, and provided an ending to the Sweet Valley saga which I hadn’t realised I needed, but it has torn apart the image I have of Sweet Valley. I think I may now find it difficult to continue rereading Sweet Valley High for a while (I’ve been reading them as I have built up my collection). Nothing has ended how I expected it would end.

Saying that, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this to fans. This is a truly compelling novel, and perhaps for those who have not read any Sweet Valley books for fifteen years it will leave you less shocked than it did me, and simply provide a good story and a final goodbye to Jessica and Elizabeth.

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Sweet Valley Confidential
by Francine Pascal

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Written by eilidhcatriona

A Scottish lass in her late twenties living in London. A prolific reader always interested in something new.

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