Sweet Valley High Series



Classic series about twin teens is shallow but satisfying.

What parents need to know

Educational value

Parents who read the Sweet Valley High books back in the day might enjoy talking to their teens about what's changed since then -- both in terms of technology and attitudes about sex, dating, body image, etc. 

Positive messages

The messages are there, but they're subtle: Jessica might learn how mean it is to bully someone, Elizabeth might help a girl believe that she can rebuild her reputation, plus there are lessons about loyalty and standing by someone you love, even when they've made a mistake. 

Positive role models

Jessica certainly does a lot of scheming -- including trying to steal her sister's crush, pretending to be her sister to get back at a boy who once dissed her, spreading rumors about a girl who wants to join the cheerleading team. But she usually learns her lesson -- at least for that particular episode. 


Elizabeth's injured in a motorcycle crash that puts her in a coma, a girl ends up in the hospital after she tries to kill herself, there are fistfights between jealous boys. In one book, a boy physically restrains Liz, saying she can't leave until she gives him "what she promised."


There's a lot of kissing and talk about looking sexy. In one book, a boy puts his hand on Liz's breast; Jessica talks about her date's reclining front seats and later tells him she'll make up a bad date "any way you want."  One girl admits her parents were teenagers when she was born. That same girl's called "Easy Annie," because she turns to boys to bolster her self-esteem.  

Not applicable

A few mentions of brands like Coke, Fiat, Porsche, Datsun. 

Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Teen characters, including the twins, and adults drink alcohol until they are slurring their speech. Jessica gets taken to a bar and served liquor; a boy plies Elizabeth with wine as he tries to coerce her into sex. One mother smokes cigarettes, including lighting up in the hospital where her daughter's a patient.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that the Sweet Valley High series began in 1984 with Double Love and was mostly written by Francine Pascal (with a couple of titles by Kate William). The series features some mature material, including a boy who restrains Liz, implying she owes him sex; a girl who's called "Easy" because she goes out with boys to bolster her self-esteem; descriptions of how the seats recline in a boy's car, etc. Also, there's a motorcycle crash, a suicide attempt, and fistfights between boys. Over the course of the 140+ book series, installments deal with divorce, drunk driving, date rape, and more. There's some drinking by teen characters, including the protagonists. Parents who read these books back in the day might enjoy talking to their teens about what's changed since then -- both in terms of technology and attitudes about sex, dating, body image, etc. 

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What's the story?

Good girl Elizabeth Wakefield and her naughty identical twin, Jessica, are both well-off, beautiful, and inclined to drama. In the long running series first published in 1983, the girls have a series of episodic adventures: Jessica tries to steal Elizabeth's crush, Elizabeth is injured in a motorcycle crash and starts acting like Jessica, Jessica blackballs a girl with an \"easy\" reputation from the cheerleading squad, etc. Along the way they flirt with cute boys, party at their pool and at the nearby beach, drive around in a red Fiat Spider, and generally get into all kinds of trouble. Luckily, while the girls are very different, they share a loving bond that gets them through some tough situations together.

Is it any good?


This is pretty much junk food, which we all know can be satisifying at times. While the SWEET VALLEY HIGH plots read like soap opera fare (Elizabeth recovers from an amnemesia-like state by bumping her head again; Jessica wakes a girl up out of a coma by promising her she can be on the cheerleading squad, thus giving her a reason to live), these melodramatic episodes make for fast, fun reads with gentle messages about being kind -- and ending with a cliffhanger leading to the next of the in the 140+ book series.  

Random House rereleased some of the series' books in 2008, with "updates to the text includ[ing] the addition of cellular phones, e-mails and blogs," but teen readers might have fun taking a glimpse at what life was like 30 years ago when kids had to use a telephone with a cord, adults smoked in public (even in a hospital!), and there were inflexible attitutes about girls and sexuality. There's certainly plenty for families to talk about, if they're so inclined -- especially moms who remember their own time at a Sweet Valley High.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about twins. What other stories or movies can you think of that feature twins? Is there always a good one and a bad one? How come?

  • In the series opener, author Francine Pascal talks about these books having "girl power." Are Jessica and Elizabeth truly powerful? 

  • There's a lot of talk in the Sweet Valley High books about feeling ugly or concern over getting fat. Do you hear girls you know saying these kinds of things out loud? How do you respond?

  • Why do you think these books were so popular when they were originally published? What's interesting to you about them now?

Book details

Author:Francine Pascal
Genre:Coming of Age
Topics:Brothers and sisters, Friendship, High school
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:St. Martin's Press
Publication date:November 1, 1984
Publisher's recommended age(s):12 - 17
Available on:Paperback, Nook, iBooks, Kindle

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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Teen, 17 years old Written byrebma97 April 8, 2014

Shallow, guilty pleasure is mild by today's standards

I've only read some of the books, and I think they're so-so; although they are admittedly entertaining, it is basically a soap opera. The characters can be superficial, although they usually learn a lesson by the end of a book. Jessica is pretty selfish and manipulative at times, and Elizabeth can be too passive. Violence: Most of the books don't have much violence in them; however, in "Hostage" a girl is being held hostage by a woman who threatens her with a gun. Sex: In one book (I forgot the name), a girl says that her single mother had her at sixteen (it's only mentioned.) Some kissing, references to boyfriends/girlfriends. Some sexual references are mentioned. Drinking/drugs: Some drinking takes place. It should be noted that this series was written back in the 1980s, so the content is not as inappropriate as today's standards.
What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking


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