Did Anyone Else Live for Sweet Valley High?

7 Aug

Before Sweet Valley High: The TV Show, there was Sweet Valley High: The Very Fabulous Young Adult Novel Series by the Incomparable Francine Pascal. Yesterday when I was strolling back from my morning coffee ritual, I happened upon a box, filled with books, sitting on a curb. I vaguely remembered a stoop sale in this exact location the day before, so I guessed that these were the leftover books. I stooped down myself to have a look. And what I found transported me to 1983-86. To my own childhood bookshelf. This stoop sale woman, whoever and wherever she was, had placed chunks of my exact childhood book collection (and my favorite ones at that) in this box on this sidewalk.

I was completely mesmerized. She must have been close to my same-exact age (and she clearly had my same-exact taste), because the editions of these books were the editions I had owned, and read, all day long and late into the night, in my room, my backyard, at my dad’s apartment, on airplanes, and wherever I went. Flipping through them, I saw copyrights from 1983, and yellowed pages, and a child’s precise bold handwriting declaring her name, her middle school’s name, and her classroom number. I saw growing-brittle covers with illustrations of guys in high-waisted slim-fitting jeans and feathered hair leaning languorously against lockers, and the women who loved them.

In this box, there were the classics: volumes of Sweet Valley High, Elizabeth and Jessica Wakefield adorning every cover in their blond perfection; barrettes to distinguish straight-laced Liz (remember her preppy boyfriend Todd?) from party-girl Jess (I obviously related to Liz and envied Jess for the duration of my entire adolescence). (And also, when I started reading SVH as those of us in-the-know used to call it, Francine had only written up to volume 4 or 5, which I quickly breezed through, so after that I was reading them as she was writing them like kids do with Harry Potter today, only she churned them out so quickly (although never fast enough! Waiting for the next volume was always agony…) it seemed very faced-paced and exciting, and I remember going to my local small-town bookstore to put my name on a list to be called when the new one arrived.) The only slightly-less-obvious Sweet Valley Twins, detailing the girls’ younger, middle school years. The lesser known (underrated!) selections: LOVING (Caitlin, Love Trilogy #1), Created by Francine Pascal of Sweet Valley Fame (which, I sort of recall that although she was the creator of many books, someone else wrote them, and I’m still not exactly sure what that means re: what she did do, but what I am still sure of is that I don’t care if she ever wrote one word – she will always be a Young Adult Genius in my book); You’re Going Out There a Kid, But You’re Coming Back a Star! by Linda Hirsch; and more, so many more, it was overwhelming.

I was lost in this book world for who-knows-how-long, and people would pass, and would assume, rationally, that there must be something really good in this box because here is this girl (me) who is so super-absorbed in its contents. First a punky-slacker teenage boy walking his dog passed, and asked if there was anything good as he started looking through the box before quickly realizing, “This isn’t my genre.” Then an elderly woman approached and I thought she may have some granddaughters so I started enthusiastically semi-shouting: “Do you know any 8 or 9 year old girls? Because these books are amazing, they really are just, just–” and this is where I sort-of lost my breath at the degree of amazingness contained within this little box. Apparently, she didn’t know any 8 or 9 year old girls.

I went on Amazon today to look up some of the titles, and many of them are out-of-print, and most don’t have “cover images available.” I don’t know where all my copies of these books are – maybe they are in some storage box growing moldy at the back of my mom’s closet that has been designated for excess stuff; maybe I donated them to the local small-town library when my parents sold the house I grew up in; maybe when I was a little older than I was then and not quite old enough to appreciate them, I threw them in the garbage to make room for some important adult book or high school memorabilia, like a cheerleading trophy, or an academic achievement award.

But here’s the thing. All those books remind me of a time when I could get so absorbed, literally lost, in a story. Which doesn’t happen so much when you are an adult who pays bills, and has other adult-type responsibilities and concerns. And here’s the other thing. All these stories, what they mostly had in common was a basic storyline similar to the Growing Pains episode where Carol Seaver comes back to school after summer break and she is suddenly, to her classmates’ shock and surprise, simultaneous cool, and hot; she has metamorphosed from her former dorky caterpillar self into a new and improved beautiful butterfly self.

I took one of the books home. It is called The Terrible Truth and the cover looked familiar, but when I read the back of the book, I knew. It is a story about a girl who is about to start sixth grade, and she has matching shoe-and-purse sets for each day of the week, and she vows to act like a grown-up. I remember reading this book the summer before I started sixth grade, and Middle School. I remember lying on my bed reading this book, planning my first-day-of-school outfit, and wishing that I had matching shoe-and-purse sets for every day of the week, and hoping that I would turn into a grown-up and get all the things that went along with that – popularity, a boyfriend (who would maybe have feathered hair? and maybe we would slip our hands in each other’s back jeans pockets, and walk down the halls that way, amidst lockers, in between classes, and before pep rallies); I might even be a cheerleader one day, or class president, like the characters in my books…it seemed to me that sixth grade, that Middle School, meant everything was possible.

I took that book home to remind me of me. Of who I was and who I still, deep down, am. Of how much I loved to read, and how I could get lost in a story. Of that pre-Middle School feeling of hope, restlessness, anticipation, longing; that feeling that everything was, and can still be, possible.

4 Responses to “Did Anyone Else Live for Sweet Valley High?”

  1. Shaz August 14, 2006 at 1:10 pm #

    My favorite book goes back a little further back in literary history to Madeline. My parents like to brag that I could read the entire book all by myself by the time i was walking (love love my parents). I wanted to be Madeline and live in an christian orphanage in Paris and walk in a line and sleep in a dorm room full of other little girls. And that fabulous blue dress with gloves and yellow hat. Minor detail that I was a jewish girl living with her parents in brooklyn and sharing a small room with her brother and at the tender age of 4 had barely traveled away from home. I wanted Paris!! All too soon Madeline was replaced by Laura, and the orphanage replaced by a Little House on the Prarie, but I still have my passion about Paris.

  2. DivaJG August 14, 2006 at 1:11 pm #

    I totally loved SVH. I also remember certain books were racier than others. When I first started reading these books I would blush after reading some of the steamier scenes.

    Going back to pre-SVH I used to be obsessed with the Baby Sitters Club. They even had a tv show for a little while. I thought these books were great and I loved the little business those gals set up. So industrious!

    So no, you’re not the only one who loved SVH. I can still see the covers too!!!! I bet you can find some vintage copies on ebay.

  3. Agua August 14, 2006 at 1:12 pm #

    Hello, Writeous Chick, it’s Annette. Is this where you’d like us to post our fave childhood books?

    So many titles are rushing into my brain, like The Chocolate Wars and the Ramona Quimby series or The Pigman’s Legacy and Charlotte’s Web. However, nothing’s jumping out at me as THE quintessential childhood book that never left my heart. I recall snippets of books, thanks to their illustrations, like a girl whose room was so messy, she had a lollipop stuck on her bedsheets and a happy spider in his web in the corner by her window. She couldn’t go out to play unless she cleaned her room. I recall staring wide-eyed at the pages of her MESS b/c I grew up in a household where that was simply not tolerated. You clean up your mess – in fact, the sentiment was, “What mess? What’s that? It doesn’t exist.” Pippi Longstocking was a hero of mine – she lived alone and survived! She washed her floors w/ scrubbing brushes she’d tied to the bottom of her shoes so she could skate her way to a cleaner floor (what’s w/ the cleaning theme? Hmmm.) I also read some sci-fi, which surprises me, as I don’t consider myself a fan of that genre, yet a Wrinkle in Time and some far-outter space traveling adventures were on my list as a child.

    I also really LOVED absurd characters, like Mrs. Piggle Wiggle. I found it at Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/gp/sitbv3/reader/102-3129415-9023337?asin=0064401480&pageID=S00B&checkSum=uSzHqg/5VG1mpbzf7Dr3OrrU0595ZLveTT%20HiqzoRdE=

    Well, that’s enough outta me. Enjoy your blog, sister. – Annette

  4. Sue B. August 17, 2006 at 1:44 pm #

    I am sorry to say that SVH was way way past my time — too bad because i know I would have loved it. My hero(ine) was Pippi Longstocking. I just loved her. She was wacky and crazy and wore striped stockings which were very cool. She had red hair (like me!) that she wore in two braids that curled upwards. She led her friends through many great and daredevil adventures. I actually think she instilled a sense of confidence, adventure and fun in me. When I went to Stockholm, I was thrilled to find out that she actually originated there from the pen of a lady named Astrid Lingren (who knows those things when you’re 10 years old?) Anyway, now I see Pippi every day because one of the main Stockholm tourist products is a little cloth doll of her, and of course i HAD to have one. Come to think of it, she still may be my hero — Thanks for making me remember how much I love her.

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