For girls (and definitely some guys) who grew up in the late 80’s and early 90’s, there was one book series that surpassed all others: Sweet Valley High. Written over the course of two decades, these books were bursting with soap opera esque drama, and they were impossible to put down. This was our childhood equivalent of binge-watching Netflix.
The Sweet Valley franchise was created by Francine Pascal, who might as well be deemed a holy goddess of the young adult genre. Pascal reigned over a team of ghost-writers who penned the books (and many spin-offs) that followed our beloved protagonists, twin sisters Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield. These books were so popular because they were simultaneously relatable and incredibly scandalous. For our middle-school selves, we kind of felt like we were getting away with something by reading them.
Let’s collectively take a moment to pause our grown-up lives and remember sunny California, the Dari Burger, and our favorite twins. Here’s twenty reasons why we’ll always love you, Sweet Valley:
1. We can still recite the description of the Wakefield twins by heart.
All of the books began with a quick rundown of Jessica and Elizabeth, their similarities, and their differences (just in case it was your first time at the rodeo.) Ready? Say it with me now: “Perfect” size 6, heart-shaped faces, wavy blonde hair, sparkling blue eyes.
2. On Wednesdays, we wear
The Unicorn Club was filled with the most popular girls in Sweet Valley, and their signature color? Purple. Raise your hand if you were guilty of trying to start your own Unicorn Club at school. (I’m raising mine.)
3. There was one twin we strongly favored.
The crux of the SV series was the striking differences between Jessica and Elizabeth. Jessica was the trouble-maker, the party girl, obsessed with shopping and beauty. Elizabeth was quiet, reserved, and studious. Jessica was a cheerleader; Elizabeth was on the newspaper staff. They were archetypes for sure, but that’s what made them appealing. You were either Team Jess, or Team Liz – there was no middle ground.
4. We all wished we had a twin sister after reading these books.
While these girls seemed to fight more than they got along, and while they did some pretty awful things to each other (jungle prom punch anyone?), there was definitely a bond that existed between the twins that we were all jealous of. They had dreams that let them know the other was in pain, and they could pull twin switches. Which brings me to….
5. We never questioned why their boyfriends were so dumb.
Seriously, these girls attempted twin switches on every guy they dated, and most of these dudes never figured it out. Remember that whole drama with Ken Matthews, and Elizabeth’s secret affair with him? There were like twenty instances where Ken thought he was kissing Jess, but really kissing Liz, and vice versa. Poor guys.
6. There were nation-wide tears when Olivia died.
RIP Olivia/Freeverse. The main “Sweet Valley High” series ended with a huge earthquake during the twins’ surprise birthday party. The quake left Sweet Valley totally devastated, with characters’ homes destroyed and relationships shattered. Olivia, who was dating Ken at the time (he sure got around), was crushed underneath a refrigerator during the turmoil. It was actually one of the saddest moments ever in the entire series.
7. We were wary of motorcycles after reading “Dangerous Love.”
Elizabeth’s boyfriend, Todd Wilkins (see number eight), decides to get a motorcycle in book number six. Much to her hesitation, she eventually agrees to ride on it with him – ONE TIME – and gets into a horrific accident. In true SVH dramatic fashion, the medical consequences of the crash include a total personality change. For some crazy reason that even the doctors can’t decipher, Liz starts to act like Jessica. She even goes so far as to hook up with the arrogant Bruce Patman (1Bruce1) in a scene that is totally five shades of shady.
8. We had some pretty strong feelings about Todd Wilkins.
Oh Todd, Elizabeth’s basketball-playing boyfriend of the entire SVH series. For some, he was kind of a “dream guy” in the sense that he was smart, athletic, and supposedly very handsome. For others (myself included), he seemed like a total snooze. He also had a jealous streak that was pretty questionable. Ken Matthews > Todd Wilkins, any day.
9. Our imaginations were definitely tested with the “magna editions”.
There may have been some serious hallucinogens involved in the writing process of some of these novels. In the books leading up to the culminating story “The Evil Twin”, we meet this random girl named Margo who just happens to resemble the Wakefield sisters. She decides that she wants to kill Elizabeth and take over her life. Totally normal. And who could forget “The Magic Christmas” – the one where Jessica and Elizabeth are magically transported to another land via their antique harlequin dolls. Brb mom, going to visit Medwin in the labyrinth!
10. We know the truth: SVU does not stand for Special Victims Unit.
SVU will forever be “Sweet Valley University” in our minds! Before we sadly figured out that it doesn’t actually exist, we’d all mentally planned our futures to attend this college. We could picture the purple banner hanging on our walls, spending afternoons on the beach, and hitting the Dari Burger for milkshakes after classes.
11. Our dream BFF was either Enid Rollins or Lila Fowler.
Like number three on this list, these two characters were crafted from classic stereotypes. Enid was a little nerdy, but sweet. Lila was an aggressive fashionista (with a cool lime-green car.) Depending on your personality, one of these girls would be your ideal bestie. Just don’t criticize Enid’s writing, and never, ever insinuate that Lila’s outfit is in poor taste.
12. We thought “Club X” sounded pretty cool, but only if girls were allowed to join.
In book number 86, Bruce starts a secret society that’s essentially the Fight Club mixed with a riveting game of Truth or Dare. The only problem is that he insists it’s boys-only, under the logic that “girls are too weak”. Say what?? Of course Jessica, our resident Sweet Valley feminist, takes matters into her own hands. She embarks on a crusade to prove that girls are just as tough, if not tougher, than boys. Tbh, we all wanted to be a part of “Club X”, but definitely Jessica’s version.
13. Thanks to Regina, we learned that drugs are bad.
Alas! Regina Morrow, the sweet girl who dies from snorting coke and breaks Bruce’s heart. She falls into a bad crowd and ends up getting into drugs. We learned about the ramifications of bad decisions from book number 40, and it definitely put a little fear into our hearts.
14. We were inspired to keep a diary, and we made sure we locked it.
If the “Secret Diary” special editions taught us anything, it was that diaries were awesome, but people love to snoop. Both twins were guilty of reading the other’s diary and learning the juiciest of gossip. We secretly wished our entries were as exciting as Jessica’s, and we probably embellished a little bit here and there. Secret romances? Oh yeah, we all had those at fourteen. Definitely.
15. “Romeo and Juliet” made more sense to us after reading “In Love With The Enemy.”
Christian Gormon! Bestill our tween hearts! Christian was a student at Palisades High, the rival school of SVH. Of course, Jessica had to go and fall in love with him at the height of the animosity between the two schools. Suddenly, SVH’s “good” guys were turned into karate-kicking, knife-wielding badasses, and a full-blown gang war ensued. Christian ended up dying tragically, Jessica pulls a Maria from “West Side Story”, and both schools learn the error of their ways.
16. We expected to have at least ten proms in high school.
What was with SVH and proms? There was one at least every five books. I still feel gypped from my high school experience – we only had two proms! The students at Sweet Valley had a full-blown formal dance for every single holiday, both real and made-up. What gives?
17. We kinda had a crush on Winston Egbert.
Winston Egbert was basically the Seth Cohen of the literary 80’s. Touted as the class clown of SVH, he was endearing and quirky. We feel bad that Bruce always made fun of him, and we rooted for him every time he mustered up the courage to ask Jessica out on a date.
18. The Droids seemed like the coolest band ever.
We would totally rock out at a Droids concert. The band was comprised of four members with a female lead singer. We imagine them today a lot like Paramore. They were playing at literally every party and school event. Are they famous yet? We hope so.
19. Our hopes were high about family vacations.
It seemed like every time the twins went anywhere, they managed to have a fling. Whether it was a skiing trip, a backpacking trip to Europe, or a cross-country flight to Manhattan, the Wakefield twins always managed to find a hot guy and kiss him. How did that happen? What was their secret? Maybe it was their heart-shaped faces and sparkling blue eyes.
20. Most importantly, we genuinely loved reading.
These were the books that made us enjoy the act of reading. Before our iPhones, before the internet was even really a thing, we were readers, first and foremost. We were able to suspend belief and allow ourselves to be transported somewhere else. These books sparked creativity and created bonds between friends. Even now, we still find ourselves dropping SVH references and feel entirely torn about getting rid of our dog-eared copy of “Double Love”, and that kind of says it all.