If More Kiddie Authors Had Written Books For Adults

Categories: Literary
Sweet Valley High by Francine Pascal and a legion of unappreciated ghostwriters

You thought the nineteenth-century novel died with, well, the nineteenth century. You thought the advent of modernism killed off those enormous doorstop-sized novels that explored entire societies, from the highest levels to the lowest, through the points of view of a legion of characters. Well, you thought wrong, because you weren't thinking about Sweet Valley High, were you?

Sweet Valley High School in the mid-1980s is a complex social organism, replete with elaborate rituals: football games, basketball games, trips to the Dairi Burger and constant parties and dances (every weekend!), during which at least one person must get pushed into the pool. Our guides to this world are gorgeous blond twin sisters Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield, one a vicious social climber, the other an angel of mercy, whose circle of acquaintances encompass both the heights of society (wealthy and gorgeous Bruce Patman and Lila Fowler) and the depths (overweight Robin Wilson, impoverished Roger Barrett).

Over the course of the saga's thousands and thousands of pages -- which, like Dickens' novels, emerged in monthly installments -- the Wakefields and their friends and enemies endure a seemingly-endless stream of triumphs and tragedies and dramatic reversals of fortune: temporary amnesia, threatened virtue, deadly car accidents, fatal diseases, insane interlopers, dramatic makeovers, sudden revelations of true parenthood and an unexpected death from one snort of cocaine. Who says that novels, even popular entertainments, can't impart strong moral lessons?

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