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27 March 2008

Six of One, Half a Dozen of the Other

I can't keep up with the volume of posts on Gawker and Jezebel these days so I don't subscribe to their feeds and instead just check in when I'm bored and the rest of the InterWeb has lost its lustre. Luckily, I did manage to spot one post from yesterday that was my thing (although The ever-knowing Ex sent me the link anyway) in which they scanned a letter from the publicist at the children's publisher, Random House, announcing the reinvention of Sweet Valley High for Noughties gals.

I'm embarrassed to say that I acquired several hundred SV books between the age of about ten and fourteen; in fact, they are still residing in a dark corner of my parents' loft. I used to love them even though a) the writing was awful, b) they were completely unrealistic, c) they were totally repetitive, d) the ghost writers never really got the hang of continuity, to name just a few flaws. For the unenlightened, the series tells tales from the lives of Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield, golden-haired, Californian twins with "eyes the color of the Pacific Ocean" and "perfect size six figures" (for now, anyway).

In Sweet Valley High, the twins were 16, but there were other series in which the twins were different ages. There was always the big contrast though: although they may have looked identical, actually they were very different - yes, indeed! - as Jessica was a sociopathic, selfish cocktease and Elizabeth was a sanctimonious, hypocritical, "serious" cheater, who luvved her boyfriend so much she couldn't help but fall in love with about 20 other guys during the course of a year, including a French prince and a werewolf (well, maybs...).

Anyway, Random House has decided to revive this now tired, '80s/'90s series to attract the Gossip Girl generation. Instead of introducing - say - some sex (or at least some suggestions of it), RH decided to change some more important details, according to the press release. For example, Jessica and Elizabeth will now wear a perfect size four, instead of a size six - because that really isn't going to mess with the minds of impressionable teenage girls! To be fair, in most US shops, the twins would probably be closer to a zero, given that I often am, although this mistranslates into a UK size eight. Anorexia-bating aside, does it really matter that much? Does one size really mean the difference between perfection and social outcasthood? In Sweet Valley, I guess so - there were only ever about four fat ("chubby") people and they were always bullied mercilessly by the mean kids.

The other change given - where Elizabeth's school newspaper becomes a website and her gossip column becomes a blog - is more realistic but these things aside, there is so much antiquated shit in those books, it would probably be easier to rewrite them than to go through with a comb and pick out all those '80s references that need a bit of an update.

More to the point, les enfants have moved on and expect more raciness from the YA fiction. Take the Gossip Girl novels where the characters are the same age as the SV twins, but are clearly living in a different universe - it may not be a more realistic one but at least the characters have fun and sleep with each other's boyfriends and do coke and stuff. Ah, the glamorous life of New York City teens.

The same thing happened with Dawson's Creek, which, ten years ago, critics called "shocking" and "racy" because 15-year-old Joey and Dawson slept in the same bed together and used long words. Six years later and Joey, Dawson and the rest of them were boyfriend-swapping away and all getting loose with one another and engaging in gay kisses and the like. Then came The OC, which made DC look pretty tame, with its wonderfully pretty but wonderfully screwed up Californians. And now Gossip Girl (back on April 21, just in time to get me in the mood for NYC), makes The OC look pretty lame.

Anyway, the point is that I used to love SVH, back in the day, but I have grown up (a little) and times have changed so I'm not exactly going to rush out to check the reissues of the early SVHs, complete with anorexia and Jeep Wranglers and blogs. The very idea of it is seriously messing with my concept of nostalgia. I do, however, enjoy wallowing in the snark heaven of the SVH lolrecap community on LJ - it's good to know I'm not the only one who loves to hate the literary Barbie dolls that were Lizzie and Jess.

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