chapter  3
40 Pages

A Physical Map of Sweet Valley, California: The Literary Landscape of “Sweet Valley High”

While the infl uence of contemporaneous politics is clearly visible in the content of the “Sweet Valley High” series, the novels’ literary formula and structure are indebted to historical and generic models. The plots of individual installments of the “Sweet Valley High” series adhere to literary formulae associated with adult and teen romance fi ction, while the structures of both the individual novels and the series as a whole build upon literary tropes associated with young adult literature in general and young people’s series fi ction specifi cally. An examination of “Sweet Valley High”’s formula both tempers and enhances a socio-cultural analysis of the series. Although, as Jean Radford writes, “it does not help to explain the evolution of cultural forms in relation to social and cultural developments,” the critic notes that popular fi ction’s adherence to or departure from particular formal codes and tropes may be socially and culturally signifi cant and continues, “A structural and semantic reading of these changing codes necessarily engages with questions of gender, ideology, and change” (Radford, 1992, p. 5). As critics of romance reading and writing have noted, the iterative nature of the genre serves to reify already conventional assumptions about gender and sexuality. When these observations are applied to the analysis of romance series written for young people, the issues of gender and sexuality are complicated by audience. In the case of “Sweet Valley High,” these complications are visible where formulae intersect: In consideration of the series’ incorporation of adult romance conventions within its greater adolescent romance formula and in its serial nature, the maintenance of which challenges a foundational convention associated with the romance: the happy ending.