Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Book Review: Sweet Valley Confidential: Ten Years Later

Sweet Valley Confidential: Ten Years Later
Published By: St. Martin's Press
Release Date: March 29, 2011
Buy it at Amazon
Source: Owned by Reviewer
Audience: Adult

Thomas Wolfe once said, "You can't go home again." Sweet Valley Confidential proves that he was right.

This review has to be the most difficult one I have ever written. I grew up on the Sweet Valley books; they were a huge part of my childhood. I felt so grown up when I began reading this series as a tween. The books had already been out for awhile, but you could tell from the well worn copies I borrowed from the library that they were still loved. I thought of the Wakefields and the other teens in Sweet Valley as my friends. I knew that I could open up one of these books and find someone who was dealing with the same issues I was or would have a way to fix a problem I was facing in my own life. These books spoke to me and I gobbled them down like skittles. I was so excited to see that they have been re-released with some modern updating. I began to buy the new editions and to spend time falling in love with these characters all over again. So imagine how stoked I was to see that Francine Pascal was returning to Sweet Valley and my beloved literary friends to update me and other fans on how life had turned out for everyone. I was so anxious to get this book in my hands that I bought it as soon as it hit the Kindle store.

I wasn't able to get to the book right away since I had several projects for the blog that I needed to attend to first. I was waiting until I could savor my time with this one. However, when my fellow Lark, Michelle, texted me over the weekend I knew that I had to put everything else on hold and read this immediately. She needed someone to talk to about the book and she was far from pleased. Her stress caused a heavy sense of foreboding to sink into my bones. Michelle loved the series as much as I did and for her to be so distressed I knew that this read might not go well for me. This is one time I hated being right. 

Below this point there will be spoilers so if you don't want to know why I was so disappointed in this book then please DO NOT hit the read more link.


First, the writing in this book was less than stellar. I have never seen so many typos in a book put out by a major publishing house. I am not sure who is at fault for that, but it was very difficult to read at times. Also, not only were there numerous mistakes, but there were even mistakes within the Sweet Valley cannon and contradictions throughout the book. For example, in the beginning of the book Jeffrey French attends a party and is happily married. At the end of the book, he is attending Jessica's wedding and living up the single life by hitting on Lila. Where did his wife go? Especially since the entire time line of the book is a mere week. Did people think nobody would notice these flaws? 

It was also extremely confusing trying to wade through this book because of all the flashbacks and point of view shifts. One minute I was reading a third person point of view segment about Jessica walking on the beach and the next minute I am reading a first person point of view segment from Steven about running into Jessica on the beach. There was no logical construction to this novel. It didn't flow and it made for a very frustrating reading experience.

Furthermore, it seems that readers know the Sweet Valley universe far better than Francine Pascal herself. For example, Cara apparently hates Jessica, but loves Elizabeth. Granted in this storyline I was right there with her, but in the original books Cara was Jessica's friend not Liz's. Another mistake - Lila's father's name is George, but in this book his name is suddenly Richard - HUH??? These mistakes frustrated me beyond belief. How is it possible that the creator of this series can't keep things straight? It was heart breaking to see that fans love her characters more than she does!

Now here's the real kicker - who are these people? None of the Sweet Valley characters I knew and loved made an appearance in this book with the exception of Elizabeth. Everyone else acted totally out of character and I couldn't even see glimmers of what I loved about them.

Let's start with Jessica and Todd. I never had much love for her back in the day. She and I have nothing in common; I always gravitated to Liz's corner. But I have to say even though Jessica could do some pretty shady things and get wrapped up in her selfish schemes - at the end of the day I always felt that she truly loved Liz. This book totally made me think the opposite. Everyone knows that Liz and Todd were the dream couple - fated to be together forever, right? Wrong. Apparently, Todd has a thing for Jessica - a thing that forces him to cheat on Liz and then lie about it for 5 years. Their affair seemed so out of character for them both. I didn't like their pairing and I didn't like that they were able to do that to Elizabeth in the first place. It made me want to throw my Kindle across the room. Jessica's habit of saying like every two seconds was also annoying. Todd was also my first literary crush - now the thought of him makes me want to vomit.

Other beloved characters were altered beyond repair as well. Winston Egbert and Todd are no longer friends in this world because Winston walked in on Todd and Jessica in the throes of passion. Todd kicks Winston out of his life rather than see his looks of disappointment and disgust. Later on, Winston dies a tragic death after a nasty fall from his balcony. At the time of his death, he has no friends left to speak of and is considered by most in Sweet Valley to be a creep and a jerk. This is not the lovable, goofy Winston of my youth. I think he suffered enough rejection as a teen. Did he really have to be painted out to be such a failure as a human being?

There are many more issues I have with this novel, but I promised myself that I wouldn't continue to rant and vent. However, I do caution people who loved the original series to go into this knowing that Jessica and Todd will end up together while Elizabeth will end up with Bruce Patman. I think I would have been less frustrated if I had known ahead of time that things were not going to go as I wanted. I also might have been able to overlook all that if the book had been well written and I could understand Pascal's motivations. This book truly felt like Sweet Valley High had meshed with Desperate Housewives and some horrible daytime soap opera. It didn't ring true to the characters or my childhood memories. Sweet Valley Confidential is something I will work to erase from my head so that I can replace it with my own imaginings of how life in Sweet Valley really should have worked out. 



One Last Gripe: I hated seeing the Wakefield family fall apart. Alice and Ned did not raise their kids to be cheaters! It also bugged me that at the end everything was suddenly all fine and tied up with a bow.

My Favorite Thing About This Book: Spending time with Elizabeth

First Sentence: Elizabeth had turned the key in the Fox lock, releasing a heavy metal bar that scraped across the inside of the front door with an impressive prison-gate sound, and was about to attack the Segal lock when the phone in the apartment started to ring.

Favorite Characters: Elizabeth, Bruce

Least Favorite Characters: Jessica, Todd



Ten years after graduating from Sweet Valley High, the Wakefield twins have had a falling-out of epic proportions. When Jessica commits a complete and utter betrayal, Elizabeth flees to New York to escape the pain and immerse herself in her lifelong dream of becoming a journalist.

Jessica remains in California, dealing with the fallout of her heart-wrenching choices. She has a career she loves and lots of old friends, but misses her sister, her oldest friend. With Jessica as her enemy, Sweet Valley is no longer the idyllic town of their youth.

Jessica longs for forgiveness, but Elizabeth can't forget her twin's duplicity. She decides the only way to heal her broken heart is to get revenge. Always the "good" twin, Elizabeth is now about to turn the tables..
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9 comments:

  1. Wow - I'm so glad you and Michelle read this one before I did. I'm going to stay away. I want to remember SVH the way we knew it growing up.

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  2. @Tevya - I wish I had done that. Michelle tried to warn me, but I am stubborn. I also could have continued to write about this for pages, but I tried to reign myself in.

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  3. God, it was driving me mad! And I do mean MAD. I am furious with FP and I swear she owes us all an apology. Tripe, I say, utter tripe!!! I was literally heartbroken with this sham of farce of a disgrace of a book.

    Sorry, Andrea! You said you wouldn't rant any more. I made no such promises. ;)

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  4. LOL @ Michelle. Rant away. I just feel horribly let down. I'm not saying these books were ever works of great literature, but I just felt that the loyal fans deserved so much better than what we got.

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  5. LOL - And this boys and girls is why I love Michelle. She holds nothing back. Tell it sister!

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  6. Oh, this makes me so sad, and I'm sorry you had to suffer through it, but thanks (from a fellow childhood fan of the series) for warning me off having to do so myself. Sigh...

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  7. @Jael - Thanks for stopping by and checking out the review. It's nice to know there are others out there who loved the series. I just didn't want anyone to have to walk blind into this one thinking it was going to be happily ever after.

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  8. Thank you so much for the honest review, Andrea. I loved the Sweet Valley books so much when growing up, and this..."novel" just sounds like Pascal wasn't even really trying. :( It's always disappointing when an author seems to lose touch with their characters, like Pascal did and like Robert Aspirin when he tried to get back into his MYTH series. I think it's best just to let it be as it was when you stopped writing about them if nothing else than for the series fans.

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  9. I have to agree with the reviews and comments so far. I was very disappointed with this book, as a loyal SV reader who grew up with these books, I have to question the authors sanity at some points!

    Firstly I couldn't get over the amount of people who were cheating, mainly in Sweet Valley, what is in the water out there. Also I hated the way many of the characters were the complete opposite of how they were, for example Winston!

    However once Alice Wakefield dropped the F-bomb, I actually put the book down in disgust for a while. Whilst I have no problem with Jessica swearing, or Steven or even Liz, I don't believe good, wholesome Alice would stoop so low!

    I also found the sex scenes awkward and clumsy, especially the one between Bruce and Liz which caused me to almost vomit. The description of Bruce seeing Liz's nipples in particular.

    Overall I was very disappointed by the novel, whilst I wasn't expecting it to be a literary classic, it was so far removed from the original SV series. I waited many years for this novel and just felt deflated after reading it, but at least I see I wasn't alone!

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