The “New” Sweet Valley High
In 1998, the fi ctional town of Sweet Valley, California was changed forever when, as described in a two-book fi nal installment of the “Sweet Valley High” series set on the night of the twins’ seventeenth birthday, Elizabeth and Jessica Wakefi eld endure a damaging earthquake that reduces much of the townincluding the Wakefi eld home-to rubble and kills or injures several friends. While the penultimate novel, Earthquake, describes the tremors and chaos immediately following the quake, the fi nal novel, Aftershock, reorganizes the characters and their situations, effectively setting up the 1999 introduction of the series’ edgy spin-off, “Sweet Valley High (SVH): Senior Year.” Although the primary purpose of these last two novels is to introduce “Senior Year,” these works also offer intertextual and metafi ctional comment on the original series, poking some fun at “Sweet Valley High”’s archetypal characterization and more unbelievable plotlines and encouraging its readers to re-imagine the series as camp. Although “Sweet Valley High” had attempted to keep up with trends in young adult publishing, the new series is more clearly contemporary; consequently, the content, structure and design of “SVH” depart from the literary traditions established in 1983 with the fi rst “Sweet Valley High” novel and refl ect the literary conventions more closely associated with turn of the twenty-fi rst century popular adolescent fi ction and what Eliza Dresang (1999) has called “Radical Change.” Narrated from the third-person perspective but punctuated by fi rst-person excerpts intended to be read as the primary characters’ “confessions”—themselves distinguished through the use of fonts that become extensions of characterization-“SVH,” although it continues the series’ focus on the Wakefi eld twins, introduces a cast of secondary characters decidedly more multicultural than the cast featured in the original series. While certainly not as “grim” as what emerged in the late 1990s as the growing crop of realistic adolescent fi ction criticized in the mainstream press, questioned in professional journals and which emerged contemporary to the
new series, “SVH” addresses emotionally fraught teen issues related to bullying, parental alcoholism and sexual identity in a manner more realistic than that associated with “Sweet Valley High.” Although these cosmetic changes and expansion of content bring the “SVH” “up to date,” the new series retains its status as a conservative romance.