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Sweet Valley High Series
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What 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.
Talk to your kids 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?
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