chapter  6
8 Pages

The Legacy of “Sweet Valley High”

When considered against the political landscape of the Reagan era and within the context of young adult literary publishing in the 1980s, the publication and success of the “Sweet Valley High” series was inevitable. Similar in content and tone to the already popular stand-alone adolescent romance novels produced in mass market form by large publishing houses, Pascal’s series espoused a conservative, pro-family ideology that affi rmed a larger social and political status quo, and, with its targeted marketing and serial structure, capitalized on the emerging consumer power of the adolescent. As a literary artifact of popular culture, “Sweet Valley High” operated as an example of the type of popular text Elizabeth Long (1985), John Fiske (1989) and Stuart Hall (1996) describe: The novels were written to appeal to a distinct segment of the adolescent audience-one that had been already been identifi ed and affi liated with popular romance novels-and, like the publishers’ popular romance lines that preceded the series, seemed to connect with what Hall calls the “local hopes and local aspirations” and the “pleasures, the memories, the traditions of the people” (1996, p. 469), particularly as readers of the series used the novels as vehicles for their own social fantasies and to particularize their dreams of the future. The “Sweet Valley High” novels themselves, as they became associated with the pleasures and traditions Hall names, and as they formed part of what Margaret J. Finders calls young readers’ “literate underlife” (1997), served as not only as leisure reading, but also as one marker of readers’ social identities. Although they depicted the lives of characters years older than the readers themselves, the Sweet Valley series relied on familiar conventions and understood representations of older adolescent and high school life, techniques that made the fi ctional world the novels described seem both accessible and glamorous and allowed the series to operate as aspirational and fantastic.