Elizabeth and Jessica Wakefield have blonde hair, sparkling aqua eyes and identical dimpled smiles. They were the most popular girls in school with an army of devoted friends and dreamy boyfriends. Every time I read about their exploits, it was like biting into a tart apple. Dramatic with a crunch but with a sweetness that made me melt.
Sweet Valley Books had one rule: Elizabeth and Jessica always got their happy ending. Jessica joins a cult because she wants to date the leader? No problem, Elizabeth is there to save the day with the police. Elizabeth falls asleep and is late for the huge test? Don’t sweat, Jessica is there to call in a fake bomb threat for extra time. At every school I went to, I could always count on Elizabeth and Jessica’s faces beaming from the bookshelves. Elizabeth and Jessica were my guides into what high school would be like. So far, they promised lots of shopping trips to the mall and boys that looked like smug weathermen.
I was eight when I had to visit my grandparents for the summer. I made sure to pack an arsenal of Sweet Valley High books. It was my first time away from home and the thought of leaving gave me hives.
As a nerdy eight-year-old there was little I wanted to do besides read and watch terrible 90s sitcoms. I visited every library in town from cramped ones that smelled like mildew with shelves of Christian romance books to overly grand ones with stone pillars. It was the sixth library that I been to when I saw them. Elizabeth and Jessica Wakefield in their beloved identical twin glory. But these books were different from the ones in my suitcase. The covers weren’t soft pastels or bubblegum pink, instead they boasted a mature burgundy and cream color scheme.
I was elated! I had discovered a new species of Sweet Valley books. These books were called Sweet Valley University. I immediately grabbed ten and happily scurried away to check them out. I spent the rest of my visit reading them, but my initial elation slowly morphed into confusion. Elizabeth and Jessica were different in college, there was no longer innocent dilemmas like wearing the same outfit on picture day, instead, Jessica panics over a missed period and Elizabeth tearfully goes with her to get an abortion. I left that summer, feeling older and wiser. Elizabeth and Jessica Wakefield had once again come through for me as my guide into life.
Who needed Judy Blume and her Dear God Margaret when I had something even better? Sure, with my frizzy black hair, I resembled a garden gnome more than the dynamic duo but that didn’t stop me from dreaming. Through cheating accusations, drunk driving, brief stints in jail, the twins always remained on top with their manicured nails and beatific smiles. What can be more inspirational than that? I came back from that summer with a purpose to live like the Wakefield twins while my mother was confused on how her eight-year-old suddenly knew what a blow job was.