Stoneybrookite

the best friends you’ll never have

Browsing in prequel

Sweet Valley Confidential, the long-awaited “reunion” book for the Sweet Valley High universe, came out this week, a cause for much excitement for twenty- and thirty-somethings who grew up with Liz and Jess.

Shockingly to some, Sweet Valley was never my thing. I started with BSC at age six, and I think my mom felt that I was too young for Sweet Valley High, too advanced a reader for Kids, and dear god just look at all the spinny racks of Francine Pascal; I AM ALREADY LINING ANN M. MARTIN’S COFFERS EVERY MONTH. CHOOSE ONE. So I think the number of SV books I ended up reading adds up to less than ten.

I bought Sweet Valley Confidential anyway, because I needed some light reading on my Kindle, I’m running out of trashy celebrity tell-alls, and Meg Cabot’s new book isn’t out until the middle of the month. (SO excited for Abandon!) I actually haven’t finished reading it yet, because having never really been a fan, it’s just not as much as a page-turner for me as it for those who grew up wanting to be size six blonde beauties with eyes the color of the California ocean. Or alternatively, Lila Fuckin’ Fowler. Anyway, I am only like a third or so of the way through, which is unusual for me because in third grade my teacher called me a liar because I read faster than she did.

The question that SVC brings up for me, of course, is whether such a book would work for the BSC. We already have the The Summer Before, which I think works okay as a prequel, even though I don’t like how it messed with canon a bit. Ann has pretty much categorically denied that there will ever be a book featuring the Sitters after eighth grade graduation, but she also had, in the past, said that there won’t be ANY new books featuring the girls, and we got The Summer Before, so let’s examine the possbilities and the logistics.

A book like Confidential, with the girls aged ten years or so? I honestly have a hard time seeing it work, and wouldn’t even really want it. I like that we can explore our own ideas for the girls’ futures in fan fiction, and it’s not set in stone that so and so got married/divorced/had babies/came out/became an executive/became a ne’er do well who never moved out of his parents’ basement (Hi, Logan!). Also, frankly, I don’t really see Ann has an adult/chick lit writer, or even a writer for an older YA audience. I don’t think she’s really a writer who wants to deal with sex, drugs, alcohol, and more adult topics. I think she handled more “adult” storylines deftly in Main Street, but in a PG fashion. I just don’t see her wanting to introduce adulthood to the BSC.

I can see a Confidential-type book working, however, for California Diaries. It would be THE BEST THING EVER. Bring in Peter Lerangis to write it! The CD books were always more adult than BSC, and touched on issues in a way that would shock the shit out of Stoneybrook. So yes, bring on Palo City Confidential!

I do think that a BSC-in-High School book or miniseries would work. Maybe bring Stoneybrook up to Palo City-levels of issues beyond “Wow, why do all of the parents in Stoneybrook suck?” Bring in a little bit of sex and controversy, just not as much as in the adult lives as our Sweet Valley friends. This is, I think, the most likely scenario for any kind of BSC reunion book.

Ann has said that she has no plans to write a reunion book, and prefers that readers are able to imagine the girls’ future themselves. But she had also said that she would never write a new BSC book of any kind, and we ended up with The Summer Before anyway. Sweet Valley Confidential seems to be doing pretty well, if the excitement across the non-fandom blogosphere is any indication. Scholastic might take note of the possible very large dollar signs. The problem with The Summer Before is that it is very much a book aimed at middle grade readers. Parents who were fans as children might want to buy it for their kids, kids might be interested in it, and super diehard nostalgists might want it, but it’s not something that most adults would buy for themselves. Whereas Sweet Valley Confidential appeals to both teenage readers who weren’t around for SVH the first time around AND to readers who are now adults, who are ok with reading a trashy novel about people in their own age group. While a book about high schoolers isn’t quite the same thing, I can see people wanting to know what happened to the girls once they finally graduated from eighth grade, after a sisyphean thirteen-year run.

What do you think of the BSC’s reunion book possibilities?

In the 90s, I remember seventies stuff being pretty cool. That is how we ended up wearing bell bottoms and velveteen tops in 1997. The last few years have been all NEON! RAYBANS! LEGGINGS!, culling its sartorial influences from the 80s. There’s a 20-year cycle of fashion, when things have faded from memory just long enough to stop seeming hideously ugly.

Thus, we have started to see a 90s revival, both in fashion and in entertainment. Beverly Hills, 90210 is back on air, as is Melrose Place. Of recent book releases, the book I’ve heard the most about is Girl Power: The Nineties Revolution in Music by Melissa Meltzer, which has insipired even those who weren’t even alive at the time to listen to Bikini Kill.

It’s no surprise, then, that both the Baby-Sitters Club AND Sweet Valley are coming out with new books. (Yes, the long-awaited Sweet Valley Confidential is being released.) Had these books been released five years ago, only those of us diehards in the fandoms would have cared. The sales would have resembled those of the attempted revitalization of the series that was Friends Forever, if that. But now enough time has passed since the heyday of these series to mean that people who were readers the first time around might have kids of their own of BSC/SV-reading age. Those who don’t have kids might check out the books just out of pure nostalgia, and old enough now to not be embarrassed about being seen buying them Teachers and librarians, also of the first generation of readers, can introduce the books to the kids they work with. When the graphic novels came out, I think it was just slightly too early for all of this. Only the hardcore fanbase seemed to be interested, for the most part, and I don’t remember as many writeups across the internet. Jezebel, for one, has been following the reissues/prequel story for as long as the fandom has.

While ten years ago, Ann said she was simply “done” with the characters, perhaps the real implication of her words were that, outside of her hardcore and aging fanbase, the public was done. They were a relic, overshadowed by new phenomena like Harry Potter. Even a graphic design upgrade and less focus on baby-sitting couldn’t obscure the fact that their time was over. They were innocent books without anything supernatural. But now twenty- and thirty-somethings seem to all be infected with a sense of early 90s nostalgia.

Maybe Ann saw the marketing opportunity and seized it, or her editors gently suggested it to her. Or perhaps, she, too was nostalgic for the BSC’s heyday, and wanted to revisit these characters.

I feel like it’s high time that I wrote something here on the rereleases, but I’ve had a hard time deciding how I feel about them. I am kind of bummed that 2010 is shaping up to be the biggest year in BSCland since ten years ago, when the series ended, and I’m not living in a country where I can really fully participate in what’s going on. The only way I’ll be able to access any of the new books until July is if Amazon decides to put them on the Kindle (go to the pages for the books on Amazon.com and let them know you want them on the Kindle! Do it for me, and, I guess, fans who want to read the books on the subway without anyone else knowing and other BSC fans living abroad who have an ipod touch and the Kindle app), or if someone types up an ebook of them and I can find it somewhere, although I feel that the attitude of the fandom will be similar to the attitude that is taken toward the graphic novels and Main Street. They’re in print, so let’s vote with our dollars and let Scholastic know that these should continue to be published.

Anyway, now that the personal stuff is out of the way, one of the biggest controversies is how the series will be updated. We know that the clothes and hairstyles will be changed to reflect current trends–although, frankly, are trends today (leggings! oversize!) all that different, except now we’ve combined acid-wash jeans and leggings to make JEGGINGS? I’m wearing jeans with zippers on the bottom right now, a style I first was made aware of by the Club. Fresh! Also, the new outfits I’ve heard of so far (featured in the prequel) sound way more hideous. From the USA Today blog post:

Claudia was wearing willowy black pants, cinched at the waist with a drawstring, and a boldly patterned summer shirt with ties that she was adjusting around her midriff. Her
midriff would have been bare, but Claud had slithered into a lacy black tank top before she’d put on the shirt. On her feet were delicate silvery sandals, and her hair, which was looooooong and thick, was held away from her face with two silver combs.

I kind of feel like this isn’t much different from the outfits featured in the series in the late 90s, rather than something a modern 13-year-old would concoct out of thrift store finds and Forever 21. I think Modern Claud would dress like Tavi.

Another issue the reissues bring up is what they’re planning on updating besides the fashions. One thing that has never really sat right with most people in the fandom is the “We don’t care if Jessi is black! We’d like a girl if she were PURPLE and a good sitter!” Even other series of the same time, such as the Saddle Club, didn’t make such a big deal about having a character of a different race, if they reissue the series up until the point where Jessi comes into the picture. See also: Claudia being “exotic.”

Also, I’m sure they’d have to update medical stuff in regard to Stacey. Perhaps she’ll have an insulin pump decorated with glitter or something for her by Claud!

As far as Kristy and Mary Anne go… I don’t know what they’ll update for Mary Anne, because Mary Anne’s early wardrobe seemed very fifties even in the 80s and 90s. I’m having a hard time with modern readers buying the excuse that Watson and Elizabeth need to get married right away so they don’t end up living in sin.

What do you think they’ll update? What would you be sad to see go? What would make you glad?

I have a sister who just turned ten, and is thus part of the target demographic of the Main Street series. Unfortunately, she is a not a Reader. For her, reading is something torturous forced upon her by evil parents and teachers to interrupt her computer and television time. She would rather, I think, do math problems than read a book. (My little brother, however, is following the example of his other siblings and reads voraciously and far above grade level, so that is some comfort.) So despite the fact that I do have an “in” to this age range, I don’t really know much about what kids that age like to read nowadays apart from Hannah Montana novelizations.

A question that the upcoming BSC prequel/reissues raised for me is what it all means for the fate of the Main Street series. Now, I like Main Street. I like how it focuses on the lives of both and the adults and the children. You rarely got insight into the adult world in the BSC–it was all about the fantasy of thirteen-year-olds leading independent lives. The girls in Main Street are fairly independent for their ages as well, considering that most parents nowadays wouldn’t let a fifth grader go more than a one-block radius from home without an adult present, but adults in Main Street are not just there to be parents who need their lack of parenting skills to be supplemented by some eleven and thirteen-year-olds who pretty much know everything about child-rearing. No, in Main Street they have their own problems and lives and interesting plots. Mim and Mr. Pennington, hot stuff, right?!

Yet I’ve always wondered, ever since I first heard of the series, about how well it is possible for Main Street to sell. Girls who hang out at their grandmothers’ sewing store? That does indeed sound like something that Ann M. Martin would fantasize about, but perhaps not something that would interest preteen girls. The books, while they do deal with heavier issues than the BSC, retain a kind of slow, old-fashioned pace, kind of like Mayberry RFD. Perhaps I am just buying into marketing hype, but that doesn’t seem to me to be the kind of thing that KIDS TODAY! would be into. I would have been into it, but I was also a loser with no friends who sat in my room making weird crafty things.

Anyway, the fact that the focus seems to be shifting back to the BSC makes me wonder if this is somehow a bad sign for Main Street. On Amazon, the most recent Main Street book came out at the beginning of last month. It’s ranked around 10,000, which seems pretty respectable to me. There are no listings for a next Main Street book, though. Perhaps it just means that Ann has been busy with the prequel and the presumed editing of the reissues to write another Main Street book. If the prequel does well, it could be feasible that Ann would do more with her BSC characters, which I think would not bode well for Main Street.

What do you think? Has Main Street been a success? How do you think that the upcoming BSC excitement will affect the series?