The Sweet Valley High Treatment

Research for my final paper for my Realistic Young Adult Fiction has led me to reading some books and articles about Sweet Valley High.

(Please do not ask me how this is relevant to my research. File this one under “Things Jessica Does When She Thinks She Is Getting Work Done But Really Is Not.”)

In an article for The Believer called, entertainingly enough, “The Training Bras of Literature,” Amy Benfer makes a number of smart comments about the stuff going on with Francine’s Pascal’s eternally Blonde, Long-legged, Perfect Size 6 (or 4, depending on your edition), Perennially-tanned, Aquamarine-eyed, Indentically-twinned  heroines. One smart comment calls attention to the increasingly inane and perpetually detailed character descriptions found throughout the series. Although Jessica and Elizabeth get the most royal treatment, Pascal makes sure that you, the reader, AT LEAST know the exact hair and eye color of every side character who the twins happen to encounter.

Benfer writes of the blond-sisters infinite descriptors:

“It goes without saying that it’s a catalog meant to cause immediate panic in anyone who does not fit the ideal. I distinctly remember running through a checklist of how closely I resembled the perfect teenage girl, based on the Wakefields. Blond? No. Five-six? No. Long legs? No. Long eyelashes? Fuck! No – not even that. The best I could come up with as a small, thin, pale, land-locked brunette was that my eyes were blue. (And large!)”

Oh, Mass Media, always trying to drag a girl down.

After reading stuff all morning about SVH, I’d already began to consider the “Popularity Envy” so rampant in young adult literature and comparing it to my own high school experience. I’ve always questioned the existence or significance of high school popularity – I knew which kids in my high school had money, had parties, had friends, but I never felt there was any kind of social hierarchy keeping me from speaking to them, and I never felt an acute need to infiltrate their cliques.

But then again, the more I read about Jessica and Elizabeth, the more I realized that I think they are different than me, and in the same ways that I thought the innocuous “popular” kids at my high school were different than me. I certainly wasn’t invited to any parties, I couldn’t afford all their fancy clothes and tanning beds and haircuts and makeup, and I didn’t have an “in” with any of the hotter male specimens in my age group (most of which have since gained 20-30 pounds… thank you, Facebook, for cheering me up!).

Basically, I would never be blond, tan, and squeezing into a size six would be possible but not practical enough for everyday practice.

I will never be hot enough/rich enough/blond enough to be in the elite.

Young Benfer found a temporary assuage to her wounded self-esteem, one which made me laugh out loud:

“I consoled myself by deciding that in the world of Sweet Valley High, I would be described as a petite, porcelain-skinned brunette with striking blue eyes. Maybe I’d be the literary editor of the school newspaper or something and hook up with a band member, like the lead singer of the Droids.”

Perhaps my subconscious is wrong – I’m not any less-stunning, less-deserving of any Wakefield Twins. It’s not possible that a high school could be populated entirely, 100% by super-model-esque teenagers; it was all about the perspective.

Maybe I just need Francine Pascal to write me.

Right now, I feel like I look like a beleaguered, unkempt graduate student who has bags under her eyes, a crick in her neck, and thinks that legging-jeans, flip-flops, and a man’s sweatshirt qualifies as an “outfit.”

But under the flattering California light of Pascal’s literary paintbrush, maybe I could be…

Surrounded by books and papers, Jessica peered out over her studious glasses and gave a tired smile to the student – a hunky sandy-haired, blue-eyed graduate student from a neighboring university – who approached the Reference Desk. She was long-legged, dressed casual-chic in a pair of tight jeans and a striped sweater, her long dark hair gathered in a sloppy bun. She looked back, a bit distraught to leave her research, but nevertheless guided the sandy-haired hunk to the proper call-number and taught him everything he needed to know about the Dewey Decimal system with obvious pleasure, happy to be of service.”


I need to get back to work.


One Comment to “The Sweet Valley High Treatment”

  1. I swear you and your sister were not named after SVH characters.

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