Sweet Valley Confidential – For the Love of Nostalgia Please Stop

So they’re releasing “Sweet Valley Confidential”, and they’re making a Sweet Valley High movie too.

There is a reason Sweet Valley High books were so popular in the 1980’s. And 1990’s. And early 2000’s for that matter. I’m not going to count how many were written but it is some mind-boggling number like over 500 at a quick glance. This includes the spin-offs, University, Senior High, Twins, Unicorn Club, Kids, Junior High, Thrillers for each spin-off series etc.

Now people collect these books with a singular dedication I could call astounding, but I am a (quite mad) book collector myself. Also my sister probably has the entire series so there is no need for me to embark on such a mission, I have enough collections going on. I recently decided to rescue them out of her garage and put them in the book room we’re setting up at home. She had offered them to me for selling some time back when we set up the Sweet Valley Books website, but I refused and told her to hang onto them. The bitter regret I have seen over the years from customers and book collectors who have sold/given away/lost large collections always leaves quite an impression on me.

“You will never find them all again” I told her firmly.

Of course I read them when I was a kid. Since I opened the website I have re-read a whole lot of them. The characters are shallow, stereotypical caricatures of real people, the plots are ridiculous, unbelievable and banal.  This didn’t diminish my enjoyment of them one bit.

I was quite surprised when I found out they were reprinting them. I wondered how on earth they could be relevant in 2008. Well, of course, they were re-issued, re-written, and re-packaged. And they were terrible. All kinds of terrible. Nine kinds of terrible. References to popular culture are peppered throughout the book in a urgent attempt to modernise them, in some cases it seems like an afterthought, but in each case it seems to fall flat. They stopped at book six.  Now it’s not until book 13, Kidnapped!, when the real shenanigans begin (really poor Liz was in a coma only six books ago, now she’s being kidnapped) and while Jessica killing 93 boyfriends in the space of 12 months would be too much of a stretch they seemed to come to a fairly abrupt halt. Incidentally I stopped stocking them on my website because nobody was buying them.

There’s a reason you re-read the books you read when you were a kid, and buy them for your kids. Nostalgia. When you try to re-write them you expose the original books as the silly, shallow melodramatic twaddle that they were. And when you take the camp out of Sweet Valley, you take the fun out.

Now, while I understand Francine Pascal may feel the need to re-visit with her creation ten years on, I have read the first chapter Random House has released online and I imagine it will meet the same fate as the ill-conceived re-issues.  You can read it here

Or, just cover your eyes.