A 30-something's lovingly sarcastic journey through all of Sweet Valley High, and then some (with lots of swears)

We’re now at the point in the series where its very first spin-off, Sweet Valley Twins, was introduced. The series chronicled the twins in the sixth grade at Sweet Valley Middle School, at age 12. If you think about it, it makes no sense for them to be age 12 in sixth grade and age 16 in 11th, but whatever. You know Francine doesn’t give a crap!

The series lasted for 118 books plus multiple Super Editions, Super Chillers (my favorites!), and Magna Editions. Around book 50, the series’ name changed to Sweet Valley Twins and Friends … how dumb. I stopped reading it several books into that, but it looks like it changed back at one point. Later on, a weird two-book “special” spin-off called Team Sweet Valley was debuted which just focused on the twins as sports mavens or something.

The series debuted in August 1986, and was widely advertised in the backs of Sweet Valley High books. “Tell your kid sister, your sister’s friends, and your friends’ sisters!” they proclaimed. I devoured these books (along with SVH) up to a point.

When the series starts, Jessica and Elizabeth are just starting the sixth grade. In the first book, they have recently discovered their individual interests. They stop sharing a room and quit dressing alike, and they begin hanging with different friends. All of this bothers Elizabeth at first. Elizabeth starts writing for a sixth grade newspaper called The Sweet Valley Sixers while Jessica joins a club of “the most beautiful and special girls” called The Unicorns (more on them later). No, really. Every book starts by telling us about how the Unicorns consider themselves the most beautiful and special girls!
Many of the SVT stories were clearly based on stories already covered in SVH. For example, Hostage! was repeated with Mary Is Missing. The entire Liz-Todd-Jessica debacle from Double Love was replayed in Elizabeth’s First Kiss, only without the whole Rick Andover bit. And in Best Friends, the first book, Elizabeth joins the Unicorns just because Jessica wants her to, but hates it and quits so that she can spend more time writing for the Sixers newspaper. If you think of these things in literal terms, it is hilarious that they don’t learn their lesson and repeat the whole debacle with Pi Beta Alpha and the Oracle in high school!

The SVT books didn’t really delve into dating and mature topics until the early 40 numbers. Before that, it was more about the twins snarking on each other’s friends, solving mysteries, trying to excel in various things like dance or acting, or getting in trouble for sneaking out of the house or playing hooky. Eventually, most, if not all, of the characters were paired off with a boy and dating became a big, and stupidly explored, theme throughout the remainder of the series. Liz dates Todd, Jessica dates Aaron Dallas, Lila dates some dude named Jake, and nerdy Amy is weirdly paired with Ken Matthews. Other characters date people we never hear from again.

Many of your favorite SVH characters show up in this series, but others vanish with no explanation. Lila is there, as is a new cousin we never heard of before, Janet Howell, who is an 8th grader and a complete snob. I love Janet. Cara Walker isn’t there; instead, we have Ellen Riteman, a rather spacy chick who makes kind of dumb comments and gets ragged on by Lila and Jessica fairly often. Ellen rocks. Liz hasn’t met Enid yet, and so we get to meet the old Amy Sutton, who is tomboyish, clumsy, and nerdy. True to form, Jessica and her friends all hate on Amy. Bruce Patman and Winston Egbert are prominently featured in the series. Other, more minor characters like Ronnie Edwards, Jim Sturbridge, and Charlie Cashman pop up from time to time. Lois Waller, who I’ve only seen casually mentioned in the SVH series a handful of times, is prominently featured in SVT as a fat chick which of course means she gets to be the butt of many jokes. Naturally, Bruce Patman gives her the most grief. Lois is cooler than everyone gives her credit for, in my opinion.

Steven is in the ninth grade during the SVT series, which again doesn’t match with his age and grade in the SVH series. Well, we already know Francine isn’t one for continuity. Julie Porter is in the series and is pretty well-liked. Caroline Pearce is also there and we see her in her early days of being the school gossip that nobody likes. We don’t get to hear about the twins’ cousin Rexy and his untimely death, but we do meet their favorite cousin Robin, who I don’t think is mentioned at all in SVH.

Several of the stories revolve around the Unicorns. Like I said before, they are an exclusive club for “beautiful” and “special” girls. Janet is president, and I personally thinks she kicks ass. All of the Unicorns must wear something purple every day, and they sit at a lunch table called The Unicorner. Most of them are bitches. They also spend all of their time gossiping about boys and celebrities. Elizabeth doesn’t like that, but come on, they’re like a lot of kids their age.

Betsy Martin is an eighth grade member, and apparently not using drugs and sleeping around yet, but who knows. The only nice members of the club are Mandy Miller (who survives cancer), Mary Wallace (a former foster child who was kidnapped as a baby), and Belinda “Billie” Layton (a very sports-oriented-type girl, which is portrayed as being outside the norm here). The Unicorns occasionally throw parties where they sit around braiding each other’s hair and giggling about cute boys. Most of these Unicorn members are completely absent from SVH, including the three nice chicks (unless they pop up later on and I’ve just never read about them — Billie might make an appearance).

Here are some of my favorite (regular) titles from my SVT days. Yes, I remember these very well, and we still have several stuffed up in our attic! Maybe it’s time I did some rooting around up there … I will likely review some of these, eventually.

#1 Best Friends – The very first book in which Jessica and Elizabeth both join the Unicorns, but only Jessica gives a fuck about it. Liz is devastated and thinks they should be doing everything together, but she eventually quits the club in favor of writing for the Sixers. There’s some fun drama about club initiation rites first.

#8 First Place – Lila gets her own horse named Thunder, so Liz sucks up to her just so she can ride him. Aw, not such a righteous person now, are you Liz?

#14 Tug of War – Liz and Jess run against each other for class president and fight like crazy about it. Liz ends up dropping out so that the third candidate, nerdy Randy Mason, can win. I think this was the first SVT I read.

#15 The Older Boy – Jessica meets a hot 16-year-old named Josh, so she lies and says she’s 14 so he will date her. He gives her her first kiss. Steven figures out what she is doing and she is forced to come clean to Josh, who just thinks she’s a cute kid. Once again, Jessica is enabled.

#24 Jumping to Conclusions – Jessica assumes her mother is having an affair and starts following her around and acting ridiculous.

#28 April Fool! – Elizabeth and Jessica switch identities like they always do every April 1st. By now everyone is supposed to be in on the joke, but instead Liz keeps getting her day fucked up because of it.

#29 Jessica and the Brat Attack – Jessica gets stuck babysitting two stupid rotten kids.

#34 Jessica, the Rock Star – Jessica joins a band with Aaron Dallas and Bruce Patman. She’s supposed to be the Dana Larson of the band, but she sucks ass. Aaron and Bruce are too pussy to tell her, so she keeps on. Oh don’t worry, by the end she’s found her “true voice” and can sing fantastically after all.

#35 Amy’s Pen Pal – Amy has this pen pal, Sam, come to visit from San Francisco. Sam makes up all kinds of crazy-ass stories. The Unicorns eventually figure out she is lying and concoct a plan to humiliate her, live on the air! Liz steps in and saves her at the last minute. It turns out Sam is a runaway. This story has hints of Love Letters to it.

#37 The War Between the Twins – The twins get in some stupid argument about the sixth grade newspaper and Jessica winds up making her own with the Unicorns, which is of course printed on purple paper.

#42 Jessica’s Secret – Liz gets her period, and of course she assumes that Jessica has hers too since they are identical twins. Hey, so does Mrs. Wakefield. *eye roll* Jessica goes along with it because she is embarrassed. All of a sudden, all the Unicorns can talk about is having their periods and Jessica feels stupid. Then the twins go to visit their cousin Robin. Robin is trying to join a cool club called the Jaguars, and Jessica offers to help her through her initiation to show how cool and grown-up she is. But the Jaguars are way more daring than the Unicorns, and Elizabeth ultimately tattles on them. Jaguars, Unicorns, it’s starting to sound like gangs. Jessica gets her period at the end of the book and feels like a real person again.

#43 Elizabeth’s First Kiss – Liz likes Todd but thinks he likes Jessica and Jessica likes Todd too but Todd really likes Liz and … yeah, we’ve been here before. Also, Liz tries dressing up for school in this weird blue-and-green striped dress (which I guess was the style at the time) and is embarrassed when one of the boys gives her an ugly blue-and-green plastic bracelet as a gift to match her dress, because he wants to get with her. In the end, Todd gives Liz her first kiss, which is on THE CHEEK, and Jessica makes a huge deal out of it like it’s the most amazing thing ever. I guess she thinks her smooching on a 16-year-old can’t match up.

#44 Amy Moves In – Amy’s house burns down and she moves in with Elizabeth. We get a hint of the SVH Amy when she starts treating Elizabeth like shit and begins hanging around with Lila and Jessica and exaggerating about the fire in order to get attention. It turns out Amy is really afraid that she started the fire herself. It turns out she didn’t.

#46 Mademoiselle Jessica – Jessica fills out a crazy application to win a modeling search and a trip to Paris that she is totally not qualified for. (I think you had to be fluent in French or some shit, I don’t know.) She doesn’t intend to mail it, but Liz mails it anyway. When Jessica actually becomes a finalist, her family decides to be a dick and “teach her a lesson” by pretending to be super French and humiliating Jess in front of the model scout. What a great family. Hello, she DIDN’T WANT THAT SHIT MAILED IN! Now we see why Liz thinks it’s okay to meddle!

#54 The Big Party Weekend – The twins and Steven throw a huge party while the Wakefields are away, and concoct a wild plan to get around their babysitter, an old drill sergeant lady. Duh, the party gets out of control, but the babysitter gets home in time to help them clean. Jessica’s boyfriend Aaron kisses her in this one and then a giant piece of baloney hits Jess in the face a second later. It annoyed me that this was championed as her first kiss when that happened way earlier.

#57 Big Brother’s In Love! – What a stupid fucking title. The twins try to set Steven up with his coworker Cathy, but Steven is obsessed with some popular bitch named Jill.

#61 Jessica the Nerd – Jessica tests into a special program for smart people along with a bunch of nerds and is humiliated. But she finds she has a lot of fun with the group. That won’t stop her from being a dick to them later, though.

#66 The Great Boyfriend Switch – The school hosts a Valentine’s Day dance. A royal first class bitch named Veronica shows up and steals Todd from Liz. Jessica ditches Aaron for Bruce, and Liz and Aaron wind up together as they cry over their respective lost loves. Veronica becomes Jessica’s best buddy and tries to pit her against Liz. Eventually Jessica fixes everything and everyone gets back together. And there’s a gross scene where Amy and Ken are caught making out in a laundry room.

#67 Jessica the Thief – Veronica frames Jessica as a thief who’s been stealing shit from people and stashing it in her locker.

#68 The Middle School Gets Married – The whole school does that project where everyone “gets married” and takes care of eggs. I never got to do that shit. Liz is paired with Bruce, and Jessica gets a hot kid named Rick Hunter, who kisses her while she bitches at him for tossing their egg around.

#70 Psychic Sisters – This was the last one I read. Everyone thinks the twins can read each other’s minds … ooooooooo.

Following Sweet Valley Twins, multiple other SVH spinoffs were introduced, all with the twins at various ages and grades.

Sweet Valley Kids came out sometime around 1989 or 1990. It featured the twins as seven-year-old second graders at Sweet Valley Elementary. These thin paperbacks had black-and-white illustrations, and the print was very large. I was in third grade when the first one was published, and I got teased for being able to read one in under 20 minutes. (I was the biggest bookworm in my grade by FAR.) One of the books I read had Lila Fowler being exposed as a bedwetter. There were also Super Snoopers editions where the twins solved mysteries.

The Unicorn Club covered the twins as seventh graders. It came out sometime around the mid-1990s when I was getting sick of Sweet Valley and “kids’ books”. It was unique as each book was written from the first-person viewpoint of a different character. In the first book, the Unicorns opened up to include more people and Elizabeth re-joined along with her friend Maria Slater. I only read two of these and in the second one I read, the Unicorns split in two and the nicer people (including Elizabeth) formed a new club called the Angels. Tell me you couldn’t see that one coming. The series didn’t last long.

Sweet Valley Junior High was one I never read. The twins were eighth graders who had to go to Sweet Valley Junior High School after a re-zoning removed them from Sweet Valley Middle. What? You mean Sweet Valley is big enough for two middle schools? And one is SV Middle and one is SV Junior High? Riiiiiiight. I don’t think this series lasted very long.

Sweet Valley Senior Year is, of course, the twins’ last year of high school. The titles for these were supposed to be in-your-face and “hip”, and I never read any.

Sweet Valley University came out some years after Sweet Valley Kids. The twins start college, and I’ll give you one guess which school they and all their friends go to … uh … hmmmm … keep guessing …. I never read any of these, but I’m beginning to think I should’ve. Sounds like I missed some gems.

And finally, Elizabeth was a six book series that followed our favorite uppity heroine after she fled SVU and took off to London.

Sweet Valley Confidential is a standalone novel that will come out in early 2011 (or so we’ve heard), as I’ve mentioned before, and is supposed to give us a glimpse of the twins in their late 20s to early 30s. I’m secretly hoping it’s scandalous, juicy, and at least 500 pages long.

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Comments on: "Sweet Valley Twins and Beyond" (3)

  1. The college years are epic. I read almost all of them. The snarkfest is amazing.

  2. Ah, the spin-offs. The SVT and SVK series were my favorites, especially the latter — no, srsly, I was OBSESSED with that one well into sixth grade. I remember making a diorama in fifth grade re: “The Missing Tea Set (in my defense, I think there was one other girl who also chose an SVK book for that project).

    Honestly, the twins seem more 3D and believable as characters in the Kids series — Liz isn’t SUCH a Good Girl, and definitely isn’t a doormat. Jess isn’t SUCH a snobby princess brat. They act like actual 7-year-olds, and I can more easily believe that they’re best friends than in the other series.

    Re: continuity. LOL, just look at the transition from the last Senior Year book to SVU #1. We pretty much have to think of each series as an alternate universe. That’s why the lessons learned at one age (especially any vows by Jessica to be less snobby/greedy/self-centered/shallow/etc.) don’t affect the characters’ behavior later in life. Or even within the same series; it’s like each ghostwriter pushes a re-set button on Jessica and Elizabeth before starting a new episode/book, so that they never leave their respective roles as Bad Girl and Good Girl. Character growth, shmaracter growth 🙂

  3. I know you wrote this years ago, but I’ve just read it now. Sweet valley Junior High got me hooked to this series. Jessica and Elizabeth became some of my closest friends during that time, and I got to know them more in that book than the others.

    It also has a different style. It’s ok first person with each chapter as a certain character. This made me understand all of the characters on a personal level, and it really helped. I own all 30 books. I love them!

    Sweet Valley senior year has the same first person narrative style too.

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