Saturday, 8 October 2011

Book Review: Sweet Valley Confidential by Francine Pascal

First published in Great Britain: 14th April, 2011
By: Arrow Books

It’s been ten years since the Wakefield twins graduated from Sweet Valley High, and a lot has happened.

For a start, Elizabeth and Jessica have had a falling out of epic proportions, after Jessica committed the ultimate betrayal, and this time it looks like Elizabeth will never be able to forgive her.
Suddenly Sweet Valley isn’t big enough for the two of them, so Elizabeth has fled to New York to immerse herself in her lifelong dream of becoming a serious reporter, leaving a guilt-stricken Jessica contemplating the unthinkable: life without her sister.
Despite the distance between them, the sisters are never far from each other’s thoughts. Jessica longs for forgiveness, but Elizabeth can’t forget her twin’s duplicity. Uncharacteristically, she decides the only way to heal her broken heart is to get revenge. Always the ‘good’ twin, the one getting her headstrong sister out of trouble, Elizabeth is now about to turn the tables

My review: 

I picked this book up for the nostalgia factor, however, I'd probably think better of it if I didn't grow up reading the original series. As a story, it's OK, I guess. But I can't get past the fact that it wasn't the Sweet Valley update I was hoping to read.

Sweet Valley Confidential shows us Wakefield twins divided. Elizabeth is living in New York and wants nothing to do with her sister, because Jessica - back home in Sweet Valley - is marrying Elizabeth's longtime boyfriend, Todd Wilkins. The only real story for Jessica is being sad about this. Elizabeth has a bit more: She meets a couple of new guys. But mostly, she is sad and angry about Jessica. That's basically the plot of the novel - everybody is sad because Liz and Jess aren't speaking. 

The twins are 27 now, so they drink, have sex and swear. I don't mind any of those things in a novel, but it's pretty obvious that these are only ways Francine Pascal shows the characters have 'matured'. (Although I will admit, the best thing that happens in the book is Alice Wakefield shouting the F word - it's like hearing a nun tell a dirty joke; you can't help but giggle at the incongruity of it.)
The book is told in two different timelines - as well as the present, we flashback to the events that lead up to it. I preferred the flashbacks to the main story, as they referenced things from past books (the first flashback is a retelling of the first ever book, Double Love) and there's a bit more plot in them. We see the beginnings of the Jessica/Todd affair, another Jessica marriage and the outing of a major character as gay. These flashbacks are told in the first person so they give some insight into the characters thoughts. Unfortunately, this insight often makes the characters come across badly. 
I don't condone cheating, obviously, but I can accept it in fiction if you make the characters' actions sympathetic. Show me them struggling with their feelings for months or show me that they were thrown together by unavoidable circumstances. In Sweet Valley Confidential, Jessica and Todd enjoy each other's company for one evening and then they're in bed together behind Elizabeth's back. Yeah, it doesn't seem like they fought it very hard. In the original series, there was a lot of boyfriend-swapping between the twins, and Jessica and Todd as a couple was an idea often revisited, so I don't find it entirely repellent. But here, it's just not done in an organic or realistic way, so there's no reason on Earth to root for them together.
That's my complaint about all the developments in the Sweet Valley 'verse. Pascal does show us how many of the old characters have ended up, but what's happened doesn't really make any sense or fit with who the characters were before. I always kind of shipped Elizabeth with Bruce Patman, but the person in this isn't even Bruce Patman - he's a completely different guy, who just happens to have the same name. The gay storyline, most of all, feels like Pascal just picked a name out of a hat and decided that character would be gay now. I also thought Pascal's vision of the characters' lives was...dark. Everybody was either adulterous or substance-addicted or dead. There didn't seem to be any happiness at all. It got to the point where, instead of being pleased at old characters being mentioned, I started to dread it, lest I discover a fondly remembered character was now a wife-beating crack addict or something.

OK, so the Sweet Valley books were never great literature. And they always had plenty of continuity issues and ludicrous plot developments. But they were also fun. I think the biggest error of this book is that it's just not very fun. There are some bright points when Pascal seems to realise this and sprinkles in inside jokes for the fans, but these moments are too few and far between. I would've loved to read one last Sweet Valley adventure, with parties and rivalries and scheming and romances. But this isn't it.

Rating: 2.5 stars


  1. I've only read a few Sweet Valley books but I agree about then being fun instead of great literature. From that perspective I too cannot understand why the author has gone the way she has with the story. And it's much worse when beloved characters start doing things way out of left field. I mean, Jessica and Todd getting married shouldn't have come as a massive surprise to Elizabeth should it? And even if it did, if she's no longer with Todd, I can't see the Elizabeth I read being so petty that her actions in this book are justifiable. I really enjoyed your review. Thanks TG.

  2. I agree with your entire review. I enjoyed Elizabeth's character in this book quite a bit, but I thought Pascal really messed up all of the other characters. None of their personalities matched what they were like when they were in high school. I can understand that growing up changes people, but did all the characters have to change for the worse? Did Winston need to become an egomaniac that everyone hated? Did Enid have to become a cold, selfish workaholic that Elizabeth couldn't stand to talk to anymore? That stuff bothered me, and Jessica was the worst character of all.

    I just reviewed this book on my blog as well. Here's the link to my review if you want to check it out.

  3. Lan - In this book, Todd and Jessica do first sleep together while he's with Elizabeth, and Elizabeth and Todd are supposed to have been a stable couple for five years, so you could say Liz is surprised because she thought all the boyfriend-swapping stuff was long behind them. But it is annoying that there is so little continuity - it's never even mentioned that Jessica and Todd have been together a couple of times over the years and considering that, it's weird that Elizabeth is *so* surprised.

    Kayla - I hated the Winston stuff! Especially because we're not even told what he's supposed to have done to everybody. It's just like "Winston's a horrible person now. The end."

    I'll check out your review!

  4. I couldn't get over that Todd is with Jessica now so it made me hate the book! The two just don't belong together and I know this is nerdy, but it hurts me to think about it! Overall I agree with your entire review!

  5. I am deeply in love with the difference personality of the twins. You guys has read the serial since childhood but i read them during my youth time which was just a few year and I made me excited to hear that the new books have been created. But it shocked me to dead which is 180º turn. How can that be? it is so bad. I am scare to read the new book as it may destroy my memory about them.


If you visit this blog, please comment! I really do appreciate and read every one and try to answer back as much as possible.