Throughout my re-read of this series (which has now been going on for ten years! Good God), there have been numerous books I was super excited to finally get to. This was one of them. I heard so much about the Secret Diaries when they first came out in 1994, but by then I was way more into horror novels and had mostly abandoned Sweet Valley. Right before I decided to start this blog, a friend purchased the first two Secret Diary volumes at a used bookshop and started talking about how much she had loved them back in the day. As I’ve mentioned before, prior to starting this blog I had never read A Night to Remember or any SVH books released past that, and this was one of the “unknowns” I was looking forward to reaching.
Well, before I give you my recap, let me give it to y’all straight: HUGE. LET. DOWN. Have you ever seen one of those clip shows that sitcoms air from time to time? Yeah, this book is 323 pages of that. Oh, with a couple of “scandals” thrown in here and there, except I couldn’t be arsed to give half a fuck. What did I expect? I don’t know, just … something else!
The cover, at least, is uh … interesting. We get a huge blown-up portrait of Liz’s sanctimonious face, wearing her famous lavalier. It’s the same portrait of her that’s appeared at the top of every SVH cover (with Jess’s) since #95.
When you open up the cover, you can see the stepback art, which isn’t that great, but here’s my crappy photo of it anyway. It’s just the same Liz portrait, plus recycled, touched-up cover art of Liz and Todd from #23 Say Goodbye, Steven and Cara from #24 Memories, and Liz, Enid, and Amy from #29 Bitter Rivals. They also took Ken’s face from #27 Lovestruck, and stuck it there on its own so it looks like he’s staring back longingly at Liz, instead of rolling his eyes at Suzanne Hanlon like he originally was. Or at least that’s what they hope it looks like. Notice they re-did his eyes to make him look extra soulful … as much as Ken Matthews can.
This book is written in the first person from Liz’s point of view. It threw me off because she doesn’t sound like I would expect her to sound. She kind of sounds like how I would expect Jessica to sound, other than the parts where she makes sure to tell us she’s a writer and knows lots of synonyms. Good for you, Lizzie, I’m glad you know how to use a thesaurus.
We open with a present-day scene. Liz is over at Todd’s house studying, and she tells us how Todd is totally hot, doesn’t have an ounce of fat anywhere on his body, and “turns my bones to butter.” Ew, girl. They start making out on his desk on top of their science project. Liz makes sure to tell us that they usually don’t hang out in their bedrooms alone because it’s too “dangerous”. Sure, Liz. They’re interrupted by the phone ringing. It’s Todd’s “best friend”, Ken Matthews. I’m confused. I knew they were good friends, but isn’t Todd’s best friend Winston or somebody? Todd happily stops feeling up his girlfriend to shoot the shit with ol’ Kenny for a bit. Meanwhile, Liz spies a letter and starts reading it. The letter is on pink, perfumed stationery (of course) from a Michelle Thomas in Burlington, Vermont, cooing about how much she misses Todd and calling him “Cute-Buns” and sending him “a thousand kisses”. When Todd gets off the phone, he’s confronted by a furious Liz who is convinced he has a thing going with Michelle. Oh my god, this shit again. Todd claims nothing is going on and Michelle was just joking around, but true to her usual behavior, Liz makes a bunch of dramatic statements about how he should go back to his “real love”, and runs out of his house crying. We just had this fucking scene last book/mini-series over some other girl, FUCK. The most hilarious part is that Liz tries to tell Todd he would never find her doing anything like this. What? She just confessed to having a summer-long affair with a werewolf impostor! You know if Luke hadn’t turned out to be a wannabe lycanthrope, she’d still be asking him to send her his best howl-at-the-full-moon poetry and cooing at him on the phone in a soulful fake British accent and shit. I guess we are supposed to think that this book takes place before all that happened. It definitely takes place post-A Night to Remember debacle, because Bruce and Pamela are mentioned as being together in the next scene.
Jessica catches Liz spending her Friday night bawling in bed and makes her go out to the Beach Disco with her. Todd isn’t there. Liz has some kind of breakdown and flees off down the beach. Jeffrey French of all people follows her and tries to comfort her and then he confesses he never stopped loving her. Barf, Jeffrey! You can do so much better than Liz! Although truth be told, I much prefer Liz and Jeffrey to Liz and Todd. The former couple makes out on the beach to get our hopes up, then go back to Jeffrey’s car and make out and “talk” some more. Liz goes home unable to sleep, “my lips burning from Jeffrey’s kisses” and questioning if she made the right choice last time when she chose Todd over Jeffrey (after Todd moved back to Sweet Valley from Vermont). She decides to read through her old diaries to figure it out.
Now for Chapter 1 and the kick-off of the diary entries. Each chapter covers the events of a previous book in the SVH series. The back cover says this book will cover books #20-30, but it’s actually #23-31. It also skips the three Super Editions published during this time. We get to read some of Liz’s diary entries about the events of these previous books, then we get Liz’s first person narration of those same events “as they’re happening.” The original scenes are mostly the same, just in first person, and even the dialogue is about the same (albeit updated to be more exciting and “90s”, but it’s the same discussion). Occasionally there’s some new tidbit. Liz is definitely overly melodramatic about everything in her diary and in her thoughts, and you know she’s just patting herself on the back for her amazing writing. Here’s a rundown of this crap so you don’t have to read all 323 pages of it like I did:
Book recapped: #23 Say Goodbye (and the end of #22 Too Much in Love)
Previous events covered: Todd Wilkins moves to Burlington, Vermont, & he and Liz pledge their long-distance love. As soon as he leaves, Jessica schemes to get Liz and Nicholas Morrow together. Because everyone is stupid, it works. A couple of weeks later, surprise! Todd comes back for a visit and sees Liz and Nicholas dancing together. Liz admits to Nicholas that she was just using him (although of course she doesn’t put it that way), and he tells Liz this is the last time he will pursue her, which is bullshit. Liz and Todd pledge their love to one another and agree to stay open to what the future could hold. The sub-plot also gets a mention: Jess takes a job at a matchmaking service and sets Steven up with disastrous dates.
Interesting insights: Liz snarkily tells us that Lila Fowler “has never and will never be” one of her favorite people, but that she does throw a good party, which Liz is happy to show up and take full advantage of. She tells her diary that sometimes her sister can be so shallow and looks down on her for not having long-term relationships. Liz pens a sad poem in her diary about a sailor’s wife waiting for her husband to come home.
New scenes: During Todd’s visit back to Sweet Valley and after he and Liz have made up over the Nicholas thing, he “scales Mount Wakefield.” LOL, that sounds dirty as fuck. He actually just uses her dad’s ladder to climb up into Liz’s window at night, and no one wakes up and catches him. Liz is wearing a flimsy nightgown and she makes sure to tell him she’s not going to sleep with him just because he’s about to go back to Vermont. She doesn’t say that outright, because this is Sweet Valley, so they cut her off before she can get the full sentence out. Todd assures her he’s not going to try anything and they kiss on her bed while Liz thinks about how she is tempted to go under the covers but had better not ’cause she’ll end up gettin’ that Wilkins ween.
Book recapped: #24 Memories
Events covered: Steven hangs around his dead girlfriend Tricia’s sister, Betsy; Steve gets interested in Jessica’s friend Cara but Betsy doesn’t approve because she thinks he’s cheating on his ghost girlfriend; Steve acts like a dick to Cara multiple times; Liz finally interferes and convinces Betsy to let Steve move on. The sub-plots get a lot of mention: charity volleyball game against Big Mesa; Liz gets salty that Todd has a new girl-space-friend named Gina; Liz becomes obsessed with a Todd lookalike from Big Mesa – turns out he’s an ass; Jessica starts sucking up to Winston because she thinks his movie director uncle is in town – it’s actually his other uncle, who’s a civil engineer specializing in trash removal.
Interesting insights: Liz expresses surprise that Lila is a pretty good athlete for someone who spends a lot of time at the mall, and looks down on Cara for her old “kiss and tell” ways. When Todd tells Liz that Gina is a cheerleader, she thinks to herself that Gina must be a “peppy, miniskirted bimbo.” Is that what you think of your cheerleader friends, Liz? While moping about the future with Todd, she also writes another poem in her diary that I think I should share:
I walk forward.
“Life goes on” – that’s what everyone says.
I walk forward, my steps slow,
Looking over my shoulder into the past.
Waiting by phones and at airports,
My steps halt.
Frozen in time.
New scenes: None
The diary skips any mention of the Special Christmas Super Edition, which is when Todd and Liz officially end their long-distance relationship after Todd and Suzanne Devlin fall in love. Although the book was a Super Edition, it was treated as canon, so it’s odd to see them ignore it.
Book recapped: #25 Nowhere to Run
Events covered: The drummer for The Droids, Emily Mayer, is having family problems with her wicked stepmom and new baby half-sister; Liz steps in and plays the therapist. Then Emily saves her baby sister from choking to death and her dad comes home and misinterprets the situation as Emily tried to hurt the baby and throws her out of the house. Damn, that’s harsh. Stepmom apologizes and everyone makes up awful quick. Emily gets together with her Droids bandmate Dan. Sub-plot: Grandma and Grandpa Wakefield come to visit and Alice feels left out and pouts; the twins ask for her help with planning a going-away party to soothe her jangled nerves.
Interesting insights: None really. Liz starts dropping heavy hints that she’s moving on from Todd and getting stronger without him. She doesn’t say a word about him dating Suzanne Devlin. Reading about the original storyline again reminded me what a huge B Emily’s stepmom was, and how insane it is that Emily’s dad just assumed she must’ve done something to hurt the baby and THREW HER OUT.
New scenes: None. That’s right, they made us read that recap for no real reason.
Book recapped: #26 Hostage!
Events covered: Ugh, the book I wanted to forget, one of the worst books in the whole series so far, and that’s really saying something. Regina Morrow and her parents are being held hostage; the twins, Regina’s brother Nicholas, and Regina’s boyfriend Bruce Patman figure it out and play detective. Shenanigans abound and the kids save the Morrows and are proclaimed heroes. Just kill me.
Interesting insights: My only insight is that I still hate book #26.
New scenes: In the original book, Nicholas and Liz are almost caught staking out the Morrows’ house and Nicholas starts kissing Liz instead so that it looks like they’re actually just making out … next to someone’s driveway, lol. In this book, that scene is still there, but they make the kiss seem more serious. Then Liz confesses to her diary that she and Nicholas shared another, far more serious kiss the night of the Morrows’ celebratory party for “the heroes.” Liz is sure that nothing will come of it because Liz isn’t ready for “another boyfriend” yet.
Book recapped: #27 Lovestruck
Events covered: Ken Matthews is gonna be benched for the upcoming football game if he can’t pass English class; his new girlfriend Suzanne Hanlon (another Suzanne) is busy trying to change him into somebody else than the jock he is; he gets Liz to help him with class, then tries to turn in her English story as his own; the truth comes out when the Oracle wants to publish “Ken’s” story on its front page because it’s just so great. Ken finally writes his own original story confessing the truth and has Liz publish that instead; Suzanne dumps Ken, but the school forgives Ken and he wins the big game for SVH. The sub-plot about Jessica helping plan the Centennial Celebration is also included.
Interesting insights: Liz thinks about what a hot bod Ken has. She’s talking about dudes’ bods an awful lot in this book, yet she normally acts like only Jessica cares about shallow shit like that. Liz tells her diary that she’s sad that she and Todd only seem to talk for short periods of time now instead of the long calls they used to have. She also writes snarky remarks about how she can’t believe Bruce asked Jessica and Lila to help him with the Sweet Valley Centennial Celebration. This bitch is just jealous. She also has plenty to say about Suzanne. She thinks Suzanne is the worst for thinking she’s better than everybody else (true), but then Liz goes to a poetry reading that Suzanne organizes and laughs with Ken at the “pretentious” poems everyone has written because I guess Liz’s are so much better. Liz writes that her lips are “puffy” from running the kissing booth at the Centennial carnival … gross.
New scenes: None
The book skips Super Edition #3, Spring Break, where Liz meets Rene Glize (who will be featured again much later on as a prominent part of the werewolf books). This skip makes more sense, and it means that we’re saved from having to re-read about Steven ditching Cara for his dead girlfriend’s French doppelganger (not to be confused with the American doppelganger who comes along later). We can be thankful for small miracles.
Book recapped: #28 Alone in the Crowd
Events covered: Lynne Henry feels lonely and sad and copes by writing and singing songs; she submits tape of a song anonymously to a contest the Droids are holding and wins the contest. But then they don’t know who she is and she refuses to out herself. Liz finds out and Lynne begs her not to tell, but Droid band member Guy Chesney has “fallen in love” with Lynne’s voice and eventually figures it out. Blah blah, Lynne overcomes her shyness and sings her song to the entire cafeteria with the Droids. Sub-plot: The cheerleaders hold a rocking chair marathon to raise funds. Oh god, I forgot about that mess. It’s still a better plot than Hostage!
Interesting insights: Liz remembers flirting with Todd last year at the sophomore picnic, but the SVH canon is that he moved to Sweet Valley junior year. (I know that they later ignored that for all of the “younger years” Sweet Valley series.) Liz writes that her family always tells her that her singing sounds like a seagull squawking. Here is a poem Liz wrote that she wishes she could set to music:
Closely creeping fears,
Can’t take much more of this.
Drive east, drive fast,
Until at last
Desert rainbows dry my tears
Like a kiss.
New scenes: Pretty much none. Liz tells her diary about how “this relationship” with Todd is “worth it” in one diary entry, then in another, she writes about how she’s now single and doesn’t have a boyfriend. Confusing much? She’s still looking forward to hopefully flying out to see Todd the next summer. (Ken is about to go visit him for a long weekend because they’re best buds and all.) I don’t remember that being talked about at all in Alone in the Crowd. I think the ghostwriters inserted that stuff in this book to help make an upcoming new scene (keep reading) more scandalous than it would typically be.
Book recapped: #29 Bitter Rivals
Events covered: Liz’s childhood best friend, Amy Sutton (prominently featured in Sweet Valley Twins) moves back to Sweet Valley; she’s definitely more like Jessica now but Liz refuses to see it; Enid and Amy hate each other; Amy and Enid fight over Lila’s cousin and both of them fight with Liz; Liz makes up with Enid and accepts that Amy is now a better fit for Jessica’s crowd. The sub-plot: Jessica and Cara start an advice column in the Oracle and Jessica uses it to steal Jay whatever-his-name-was from Denise Hadley.
Interesting insights: Apparently Amy was “buck-toothed” back in the sixth grade. Also, Ken and Liz reminisce about one time when they went snorkeling at “Turquoise Bay” with Jessica and Todd and saw a shark – what is Turquoise Bay? Liz sketches out a story idea in her diary about a Seattle teen named Colleen O’Hara whose miserable existence is saved when her childhood best friend Camilla comes back into her life again. Liz is sad that she and Amy don’t seem to be turning out like Colleen and Camilla. Waaaah.
New scenes: There are plenty and they kind of rewrite the previous history, since in the regular series Liz and Todd were through at this point. Liz helps send Ken off on his long weekend in Burlington, with a care package for Todd. She writes “I wish I could put myself right into the package.” She should’ve taken advantage of that time he climbed into her window then. She also says that Todd has admitted he did go on a couple of dates with Gina the cheerleader, but now they’re “platonic” again. She’s relieved he hasn’t found anyone else yet. When Ken gets back from his trip, Liz goes over to see him and retrieve some presents Todd sent back for her and her parents. Ken says that Todd wants him to “take care” of Liz now that Todd isn’t there to do it anymore, because I guess Liz can’t handle herself. He assures Liz there’s definitely nothing between Gina and Todd now, as Gina is dating some other dude. Liz and Ken seem like they keep finding excuses to touch each other! FORESHADOWING! Later on, Liz calls Todd and someone named Donna picks up the phone and hands it to him. Liz is jealous again and bitches at Ken about “Donna the Bimbo” and he reassures her that Todd doesn’t have a new girlfriend. I mean, are Liz and Todd done or not? Liz is talking about being single, but then acting like she still has a right to control Todd’s love life. You can’t blame her for still having feelings, but for someone who acts like she’s the model of kindness and goodness others should follow (and lately, feminism!), she sure loves to call any female friend of her ex’s nasty names.
Once again, a Super Edition is skipped – Malibu Summer, where Liz falls in love with a pop star. It definitely made sense to skip that one too since I don’t think Liz can explain how the seasons repeat so often in these books any better than we can.
Book recapped: #30 Jealous Lies
Events covered: Sandy Bacon tries to stop her best friend Jean West from joining Pi Beta Alpha, because she’s jealous that Jean is so fabulous. They make up and Jean starts dating Tom McKay. The sub-plot is about Steven Wakefield getting a wild hair up his ass that he wants to leave college for a job on an ocean liner, and the Wakefield family plotting to keep him in Sweet Valley.
Interesting insights: None, other than there’s way more focus on the sub-plot than the main plot. Steven comes off like the ultimate baby, yelling at his family and leaving the table the second they express concern about his leaving school. So business as usual, I’m just more embarrassed for Steven the second time around.
New scenes: Ken shows up at Liz’s house and takes her out to Casey’s Ice Cream Parlor. She tells him how much better off he is without Suzanne and he agrees. He asks her if she’s interested in dating anyone new since Todd, and she claims she’s happier being single. When she talks to Todd later though, he mentions he’s going to a dance with a girl named Diane and Liz is hoping Diane is a total drip. Ken takes Liz out on a date to a horror movie and to get pizza at Guido’s … it’s supposed to be because he’s just “taking care” of Liz. Cool story bro. Liz gets goosebumps at the end of the night and realizes she might be falling for Ken. Then Ken takes her to the big Friday-the-thirteenth dance and they dance together all night. Liz tries to get him to dance with other girls, but he implies he only wants to dance with her. At Steven’s big surprise “Bon Voyage!” party, Ken pulls Liz outside and they start kissing. Then Liz freaks out and runs back inside the house, because Ken is Todd’s best friend and it feels wrong to her.
Book recapped: #31 Taking Sides
Events covered: New boy Jeffrey French moves to town; Enid and Lila are both hot for him; Liz and Jessica battle it out and scheme to get Jeffrey with their respective best friends; in the end, Jeff actually prefers Liz, and now they’re together. The sub-plot: the twins’ annoying cousin Jenny visits, and Jessica’s love interest Eddie Winters ends up preferring Jenny to Jessica.
Interesting insights: Liz opens this chapter by calling herself Todd’s girlfriend. Several pages later, Jeffrey asks her if she has a boyfriend and she says no. Make up your god-derned mind, Liz.
New scenes: Liz and Ken start seeing each other on the regular, but hide it from everyone because they don’t want word to get back to Todd. They meet on the beach at night and make out on a blanket. They go on dates to places no one will see them. This goes on for a couple of weeks. They try to break up a couple of times, because this is just so wrong to do this to Todd! But they just can’t! Their feelings are too strong and every serious chat ends with a torrid make-out session. Then, just as Liz is starting to get interested in Jeffrey French, they tearfully decide they can’t continue and that they were just trying to fill the void of being single, or something. Okay. They both agree neither of them will EVER, EVER breathe a word of this to anyone. Okay. I’m bored. A few days later, the original series plot line picks back up and Liz gets with Jeffrey. There’s zero mention of how, if Liz still has some kind of relationship understanding with Todd, she broke that news to him. I guess it’s okay for Liz to roll around with other dudes, but how dare Todd be interested in other girls.
In the Epilogue, it’s now morning back in the present time, and Liz is finishing reading that volume of her diary. She sees the light. She’s had such a great, fulfilling life! She will always, always love Todd. She goes downstairs to the kitchen to make some coffee and spies Todd moping around outside. That’s creepy. She lets him in and they cry and make up. Todd explains Michelle was just a friend he used to joke around with but nothing ever happened, and Liz believes him this time. She doesn’t say anything about her wildin’ out the night before, or her whole history of wildin’ out.
This book seemed pointless to me. I can see what they were trying to do: Lure new readers to the series while entertaining longer-term fans with some juicy new bits. Except those bits aren’t that juicy, and they aren’t believable. At this point in the original books, Liz and Todd weren’t together anymore, at all. If they wanna do some awkward rewrite, they can at least get the new story straight. Instead we get these vague statements calling Liz “single” one minute and being Todd’s girlfriend the next. It makes no sense to re-write history and then jam in some dumb affair and make us think that Liz and Ken would really be able to keep it a secret from everyone.
I also think it’s dumb to insinuate that Jeffrey still has feelings that strong for Liz at this time. Hope he’s okay with her using him to help her get over fight #137 with Todd. Guess we’re supposed to think Todd will never find out and Jeffrey will just quietly fade into the background and not say a word.
What this book really taught me is that I’m correct that Liz is the ultimate hypocrite. While she spends a good amount of her time looking down on other people (namely, her sister), for seeing lots of guys and playing with people’s hearts, Liz does the same thing behind closed doors – as soon as she has a fight or some kind of doubt about her long-term man, she runs off to somebody else. As soon as long-term man is back or someone better comes along, she forgets all about the other dude. It’s ironic that the recap of Bitter Rivals includes the bit where Liz is horrified that Amy would string along her old boyfriend in her old town, while pursuing other guys in Sweet Valley. Liz is pretty much doing the SAME THING. Oh but Liz is just “confused.” For someone so smart, she’s confused a lot. And she doesn’t learn and grow. She remains the same person making the same mistakes over and over with near zero levels of self-awareness or lessons learned.
Also, it is totally weird to get a re-cap of all these old books with all these old characters nobody cares about, that newer readers joining the series at this point had likely never heard of. I was happy to move on past some of these; now they’re back like the undead, but with zero thrill.
PS Where the hell is Prince Albert the dog?
Coming up next: I have to do another one of these with Jessica’s Secret Diary. Fab.