You may have seen on Facebook the agonies of getting this uploaded, but now it’s up, working (god, I hope it’s working), and you can listen to the three of us discuss Sweet Valley Twins 4 Choosing Sides; 5 Sneaking Out; and 6 The New Girl and the Bleak Valley world and how they all tie together.
Title: The New Girl
Tagline: How can twin sisters cause triple trouble? Answer: By kidnapping a classmate and forcing them to undergo radical plastic surgery for the purposes of a joke? Pretty sure Amy would do it willingly.
Summary: Identical twins Elizabeth and Jessica Wakefield don’t always agree on things – until Brooke Dennis arrives at Sweet Valley.
Both twins agree that she’s horrible. She snaps at everyone who tries to be nice to her and she’s constantly saying mean things to people.
To yet even with Brooke, the twins invent a third look-alike sister whom they call Jennifer. Pretty soon all of Sweet Valley Middle School is in on the plan. But then Elizabeth discovers the real reason why Brooke is so mean. Suddenly, the plan to get revenge doesn’t seem like such a good idea.
Can Elizabeth stop her classmates from playing the ultimate joke before Brooke’s heart gets broken?
The New Girl. What an impressively awful title. And the cover? A frowning brunette points at a smirking blonde. Inspired.
I’m already disappointed in this book, and I’ve not even opened it.
Title: Sneaking Out
Tagline: Will Elizabeth tell her parents if Jessica sneaks out to the rock concert? (No, of course she won’t. Elizabeth would tell anyone if Jess stabbed her in the face.)
Summary: All the kids at Sweet Valley Middle School are talking about the big Johnny Buck concert.
For the second year in a row, the twins’ parents say they are too young to go.
Elizabeth is disappointed, but will do what her parents say. But nothing and no one in the world can stop Jessica from seeing her rock idol – even if it means sneaking out.
Soon Jessica comes up with a plan that she knows will fool her parents – but it means neglecting her responsibilities. Will Elizabeth, once again, step in and take over for her sister – or will she tell her parents the truth?
This is one of my least favourite books. There’s nothing really wrong with it, it’s just there’s nothing really right with it either.
Jess: I’m just sneaking off, Dog. Don’t tell anyone I’m wearing double denim.
[Wing: There is so, so much wrong with it. SO MUCH. Note: It may be useful to know that I am a dog person through and through.] [Dove: Sorry, I should clarify so I don’t sound as ruthless and cold as Jessibeth: when I say there’s nothing really “wrong” with it, I mean that when you compare it against the other four books we’ve done so far, which contain spite, bullying, body-shaming, and property damage towards “different” people, Jess being ruthless is just business as usual, and this particular book is no more wrong than the ones before it. However, Wing’s right, if you are decent, everyone is Sweet Valley is wrong.] [Wing: I don’t even consider myself decent and yet I hate them all for being terrible. But not Dove. No, Dove I hate for a much different reason. Gee, I wonder what it could be.]
Title: Choosing Sides
Tagline: Is Elizabeth’s best friend more important than her own twin sister? Answer: According to the previous three books, her best friend is her twin sister, but pretty much everyone should be more important than Jessica. Jessica is horrible.
Summary: Amy wants to be on The Boosters, but Elizabeth learns the Unicorns will do anything to keep her off the squad, including Jessica! Whose side should she take? Answer: Jesus fuck, she should take Amy’s side! She dislikes the entire point of the Unicorns and knows how mean and terrible they are. Why would she support more bullying and exclusivity from them?
I hate everything about this series, these main characters, these books, this writing — everything. The only good thing is waiting for Raven or Dove to go boom.
Also, Dove made me do this for my birthday, because she hates me. *drinks* [Dove: Yeah, but on our other site I gave you a month of werewolves for your birthday.] [Wing: I am as yet undecided whether that makes up for this fiasco. The month of werewolves will end, but I’m scheduled to do these recaps until 20-fucking-21.]
It’s hard to know where your imagination will take you.
At the age of eleven, my favourite film was Berry Gordy’s The Last Dragon. If you don’t know it, I suggest you check out the IMDB page. Cliff Notes: it’s a Martial Arts Motown Musical which sees our African American hero and master of Kung Fu, Bruce Leroy, take on a gloriously high camp bad guy Sho’nuff, the Shogun of Harlem.
All the cool kids my age worshipped at the altar of Star Wars, but me? I wanted to be this guy:
What can I say? It caught me. Truth be told, I love it still, without a hint of irony.
Dove was caught, by her own admission, by the Sweet Valley Twins series at a wholly appropriate age. She started with The Haunted House, a book which I recently had the pleasure to recap, and after that she leapt feet-first into the bowl of twee soup, the bowl in which the Wakefield twins float like Aryan croutons. She bought book after book after book, and devoured them with joy.
Wing and I came to this series with jaded, adult eyes. We’re enjoying the process, and the books too (I think), but they are definitely Not Meant For Us. Dove knows what’s coming, while we’re going in blind. Eyes wide, daggers drawn, probing for blood and giggles.
Dove, some years older and much more sarcastic, is rereading her youthful passions with a critical (and humorous) mindset. She too is enjoying the text, but she’s likely more amped by our reactions to the shenanigans undertaken by Jessica and her Unigibbon cohorts than by the shenanigans themselves.
In truth, while you can revisit your childhood haunts, they’ll never be as memorable as they once were. It’s hard to rekindle the fire that warms you the first night you camp in the dark with the characters you love.
In one aspect, Wing and I are lucky. This is our first viewing of the shitshow. We’re slouched in our matinee seats, the popcorn prose slick with a banal butter but still kind on the tongue. For Dove, the snacks have grown stale, and the performances are rote and weary. Sweet Valley isn’t quite as sweet as it once promised.
So it was nice when something came along to grab Dove’s imagination.
It was a throwaway comment, at first. I made it for a laugh, the way I make most comments. Dove snickered. Job done. She then referenced it in the podcast, so I reinforced it. Nothing sinister in intent, no matter how sinister the actual idea.
Jessica Wakefield doesn’t exist. She’s merely a construct in the mind of Elizabeth Wakefield, an abused Only Child whose imagination spawned the whole of Sweet Valley in order to escape her lonely, imprisoned, apocalyptic clusterfuck life.
This simple concept, conceived in jest with no real consideration, has burrowed deep into Dove’s mind, crab-clawing a home amongst the horror tropes and My Little Pony trivia. When she talks about it – and she talks about it – her eyes light up with a gleeful abandon. Those of us that know her, we know that glow well.
Dove has set upon the books, voracious once more. The hackneyed stories, once ingrained as static tableaus, unmoving and complete, now squirm and writhe afresh. Elizabeth’s actions and motivations are examined through a jeweller’s loupe, their patina and hue stress-tested for authenticity.
Does the theory stand up to scrutiny? Can the storylines in the Sweet Valley Twins series really be explained away as the fevered ramblings of an abandoned and abused pre-teen mired in a hellish and loveless quagmire?
The characters we see are jagged jigsaw-fits of a shattered personality.
Jessica. Elizabeth’s “twin”. A beloved sociopath that gets her own way no matter what the cost. Manipulative, rational, deliberate, serene. A version of Elizabeth with the power to set her own agenda, the stillborn heart at the core of the real Elizabeth’s existence.
The Unicorns. A pre-teen Jekyll and Hyde, both popular and vapid, beautiful and ugly. An ideal image of what Elizabeth would hope to be, yet dry-brushed with a tainted aspect so she can live with the truth of her awful situation.
The Sweet Valley Sixers. Elizabeth’s paper. Her passion, her voice, a bulletin that both frees her mind and locks her cage. She longs to be heard, to be rescued, to be real, but all she can do is report on the lives of the imagined players in her absurd theatre of repression.
Her parents, the Elder Wakefields. Awesome, beautiful, nondescript, one-dimensional. A textbook mother and father, seen through the eyes of a neglected child with no real frame of reference.
Elizabeth herself. Popular, hard-working, responsible, perfect. Everything that the real Elizabeth longs to be. But at her core, the imagined Elizabeth is ineffectual, quick to capitulate, unable to assert any influence on her own surroundings. She’s drowning, and smiling as she sinks.
By exploring the many stations visited by this offbeat train of thought, Dove is having fun. Having devoured the majority of the books, she has framed this theory with characters and plot points that Wing and I have yet to discover. We often receive bouncy texts and emails, outlining how the plot of Book X supports the theory, or how Characters Y and Z interlock to form some unexplored shard of the real Elizabeth’s true character.
We have a name for this conceit, this desolate nightmare. Elizabeth’s altered reality, the purple underbelly of her cracked psyche, the Dark World of her mind and soul.
Dove is back to loving the books, for all new and slightly disturbing reasons. And her enthusiasm is delightful. Wing and I have vowed to indulge Dove’s newfound vigour for all things Bleak Valley, and we hope to incorporate our discussions and ideas into future podcasts and recaps. Not as something that eclipses the thrust of our recapping, naturally; more something that accentuates the main course, a few sprigs of Bleak Valley parsley on the steak of Sweet Valley Twins.
So, look out for an irregular post every now and then, entitled Bleak Valley, in which Wing, Dove and myself discuss our latest recaps and examine how they might fit into the Bizarro World of Lonely Elizabeth’s Grief Cupboard. There’ll be brief chats and laughs about this in the podcasts too, demarked and skippable in case the darkness is Not Your Bag.
Bleak Valley. Where the town of Sweet Valley is nothing but a spark of hope in the mind of a lonely and frightened girl. Where an abused and abandoned child clings to a chipped reality through frenzied desire and force of will. Where a neglected Elizabeth dreams of a better life.
Yeah, it’s hard to know where your imagination will take you.
Title: The Haunted House
Tagline: Will a witch’s spell come between Elizabeth and Jessica? [Dove: Not until Super Chiller #9, and it’s more of a curse than a spell…]
Summary: Everyone at Sweet Valley Middle School has always said the Mercandy mansion is haunted. Strange lights flicker in the windows at night, and no one ever sees the owners come and go. So when Nora Mercandy moves into the run-down house, rumours spread fast. Jessica Wakefield and her friends are convinced Nora is a witch.
But Elizabeth, Jessica’s twin, is certain that Nora is just an ordinary girl. She’s determined to stick up for her new friend. She’ll get to the bottom of the mystery of the Mercandy mansion – even if it might mean losing her sister’s friendship!
Scary witches at Halloween. Sounds fun! As my pseudonym implies, I’m a sucker for a Halloween Special. I’m sure this will be no different. Of course, Nora won’t actually be a witch. If she is, I’ll eat my (large and pointy) hat.
The Front Cover: Blonde Girls Encounter Brunette Outside A Place. How exciting! The brunette is at a jaunty angle, with arms crossed to convey maximum sass. Also, it’s getting dark, so this is the closest I’ll ever get to reading Twilight.
(By the way, I’m Raven. I’m new. Hello!)
[Dove: This was the first ever Sweet Valley book I read. I picked it up in a charity shop during a particularly boring visit with my grandfather. So the moral of this story is: don’t visit your relatives, or you’ll get hooked on awful books filled with hateful characters.]
[Wing: I blame your family for everything. Also, we should recap the Twilight series with Raven.]
[Raven: Not happening.]
[2 Feb 2017 update: Wing: For another take on this book, check out the Super Serials podcast episode.]
Title: Teacher’s Pet
Tagline: Will Jessica steal the lead in the ballet recital from Elizabeth? (The answer to that question is always yes. If Jessica can steal something from Elizabeth, she will. And Elizabeth will be like, “Oh, Jess, you’re so funny.”) [Raven: Alternate Tagline – “Elizabeth waves her hands in the air, while Jessica just doesn’t care.”]
Summary: The twins start ballet class and compete for a solo. Jessica is the better dancer but Elizabeth is the teacher’s pet!
I’ve read this book far too often to have any initial thoughts about it. Sorry.
[Wing: My first time. It was not as terrible as the first one, because there’s a lot less body shaming, but the entire Wakefield family is still pretty obnoxious.]
[Raven: Ballet? Bring it on.]
Liz: I’m a pretty ballerina, watch me twirl!
Jess: Fuck you! Give me four years and I’ll kill my boyfriend and frame you for it. That’ll fucking teach you!
(Out of all three of us recappers, I’m the only one who has any idea what comes after SVT – I’ve not read all the books, but I’ve read Twins, a bit of High (and plenty of recaps), about eight of Uni and all of Confidential and Sweet Life.)
[2 Feb 2017 update: Wing: For another take on this book, check out the Super Serials podcast episode.]
Title: Best Friends
Tagline: Elizabeth is afraid she’s losing her best friend — her twin sister!
Summary: Growing apart…
The twins’ close friendship in threatened when Jessica is admitted to an exclusive girls’ club.
Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield feel special because they’re identical twins. For twelve years they’ve dressed alike, shared a room, and done everything together. But when they start Sweet Valley Middle School, everything begins to change.
Elizabeth wants to work on the class newspaper, but Jessica doesn’t. Jessica would rather join the Unicorns, a snobby all-girls club. Even though Elizabeth isn’t interested in the same things as her twin, she tries to tag along. But is she losing her best friend?
Dude, your twin sister/BFF will always be there, if Dove is any example. (She is, after all, the good twin.) Also, I was so, so annoyed when it felt like my siblings were always trying to do the same activities I did, even though looking back on it now, I can see we just have similar taste in what is fun, and I should have enjoyed it more.
I find the cover of this book extremely creepy; all that pink, yes, but also how pastel the world is: their shirts, their hair, their skin, their house, their yard, their sky — everything is washed out and terrifying. Suburban horror at its best. [Dove: It’s red. The cover is red, not pink.] [Raven: The cover is red, but the picture of the twins is indeed majorly pink. Got your back, Wing. *fist bump*]
[Wing: *fist bump* Dove is going to regret letting Raven join us.]
[2 Feb 2017 update: Wing: For another take on this book, though one that hits on a lot of the things that made us go boom as well, check out the Super Serials podcast episode.]
I got the go-ahead from Wing that she would be up for recapping Sweet Valley Twins. Then I was overcome with pre-project excitement, so I ran off and bought a domain name. It’s all Wing’s fault, she wasn’t there to stop me.
However, Wing never said when she’d be up for recapping, so the domain is bought, the wordpress is installed, and now we’re nice and ready, whenever ever Wing gets a spare few minutes to throw in this direction.
That’s a joke. Wing’s very busy.
Edit: Got the word from Wing. And I quote “this fiasco” will be kicking off on 2 January 2017. And added bonus, we have a secret triplet, Raven, joining us in recapping.