the best friends you’ll never have

Browsing in The Summer Before

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?

I started writing this in August and finished it today. Yes, I do have many drafts of unfinished blog posts sitting around. Some of them may eventually get finished. But you may never get to read “Ben Hobart: Manboy of Mystery,” sorry. Also, I haven’t heard anything else about a new B&B-H since.


Recently Six months ago, I read that Beavis and Butt-Head, like Futurama before it, is soon coming back to TV with all-new episodes. I am of two minds about this: one is that I really love B&B-H, and the only thing in my childhood that could tear me away from spending all weekend inside reading BSC books was spending all weekend inside watching B&B-H marathons. But somehow, it seems to me that new episodes of TV shows past their glory days somehow fall flat. When I watched the new Futurama, something about Bender seemed totally off to me, and I really had no desire to watch anymore after the first new episode. I have a feeling that I’ll feel the same way about B&B-H: for five minutes I’ll be excited about the OOOH SHINY of a new B&B-H episode, and then… eh. Probably because for me, the best part of the show is when B&B-H watch music videos, and I hate music today, for the most part. I don’t give a shit what B&B-H say about Lady Gaga because she’s neither awesome (Nirvana!) or totally full of amazing amounts of suckiness (the Scat-Man guy). To me, it’s just… eh.

Or it might be totally awesome and I’ll love it. You never know.

Anyway, the reason I bring this up is because that is how I have felt about The Summer Before. It took me a long time to get around to reading it (shipping charges are a bitch and it’s better to wait), and I still haven’t really decided how I feel about it, which is why it’s taken me almost two months a long time to get around to writing about it.

The BSC “graduated” the same year I did, and the first book came out the month after I was born–I was actually supposed to be born in August, but I was a scheduled c-section and the doctor was on vacation during my due date. I was THISCLOSE to being in perfect symmetry with the BSC! Sadface. To me, it always felt like a special thing that the BSC ended before I made it to high school. I was never one of those people who was clamoring for a reunion book. I much preferred to be free to imagine what the girls would be doing, rather than knowing that Kristy became class president in senior year and then majored in business or whatever.

So I was glad that they went with a prequel instead; this way, we are still free to imagine their futures and write fanfiction. (I used to write it, and this morning I totally got into the idea of writing some Emily Bernstein fanfiction, but I probably won’t.) [Note: I have since started participating in Baby-Sitters Club 100.] But still, even with just a prequel, there is something strange about removing the BSC from their time and writing it now. First of all, I don’t think thirteen year olds and eleven year olds really baby-sit anymore. Most eleven year olds I know still need a baby-sitter of their own. Even with the updated rereleases of the series, which remove references to things like VCRs and The Cosby Show, the world has changed in the past 25 years in way that almost renders the entire series moot.

As a rule, I’m generally opposed to remakes and revivals. I’m working on a thesis dealing with punk at the moment, and one of the things in one of the books I just read, Punk Rock: So What?, basically says that punk revivals invariably ring false, an attitude that I have always agreed with. You can listen to Nirvana and enjoy it, just don’t start a neo-grunge band. Because outside of the cultural context and time into which it was born, grunge just doesn’t make sense. It becomes something false and manufactured from some idea of nostalgia.

While I enjoyed The Summer Before, for the most part, I’m not really in favor of any more BSC books, and still have conflicting feelings about it. The series’ time has passed, although new generations can and should continue to enjoy it. But outside of the late 80s/early 90s, when it was contemporary, I’m just not sure how it’s possible that the concept can really “work,” how legitimate a new BSC book can be.