When it was announced that Francine Pascal was releasing an update to the Sweet Valley story, Sweet Valley Confidential, we squeed and started the countdown to release day. Just what are those twins up to in their twenties? The book release day has come -- I've read the it and I'm here with the scoop and the spoilers. It was fabulously horrible. Or maybe horribly fabulous. One can never be sure which when talking about Sweet Valley.
In the sneak peek of Sweet Valley Confidential released by the publisher last fall, we picked up a few facts. We knew that Elizabeth was in New York City, struggling to make it as a journalist. We knew that she was single and sometimes had casual sexual encounters that ended in tears. She was barely speaking to anyone from Sweet Valley and most certainly not speaking to Jessica. Jessica had done something, yet again, to betray her -- but this time it was serious. It was also revealed that her new best friend is her one-time would-be rapist, Bruce Patman. Yes, 1Bruce1! Closer to the release date, it was revealed that there was going to be a wedding and that one character was going to come out of the closet.
You want to know what happens don't you? Well, I'm going to do something I never do. I'm going to tell you. This post is full of spoilers. I know I already said that but I'm warning you again. If you don't want to read the spoilers you need to run away from this post right now because I'm going to tell you all about it. Yes, all.
Let's get this out of the way. Everyone reading the sneak peek of the first chapter figured they knew exactly what was going on with Jessica and Elizabeth. Jessica slept with Todd. Elizabeth found out. Everything exploded and Elizabeth ran away.
If that is what you thought are you absolutely, 100% correct. The only thing that was a surprise to me was that it wasn't a one time thing and they had a full-blown affair. It just took Elizabeth five years to find out. She went on living with Todd, building her journalism career and preparing for their wedding -- completely oblivious.
Jessica, having annulled her marriage to Mike back in university, (which means it never existed right?), and then having the affair with Todd in their last year at Sweet Valley University, goes on to marry super-rich dude Regan Wollman in her mid-twenties. After only six months she decides she doesn't actually love him and the age difference, (he's 42), is more of a problem than she thought it would be. He's jealous and possessive, so in true Jessica-fashion, her leaving him involves hiding in the backseat of a taxi as it speeds its way to the airport in Nice where she hops a flight back to the US and Elizabeth. And to Todd.
Todd and Jessica being in the same house together is too much. Bruce knows about Todd and Jessica but can't bring himself to tell Elizabeth. He wants to, desperately, but can't bring himself to crush her like that. He wonders if it's too self-serving because, of course, he's in love with her and has been since she stayed by his side when his parents died in a horrible car crash. He's just on the cusp of telling her at the Dairi Burger, I'm sorry I mean Napkin, when Ken Matthews, (NFL star quarterback and married to Lila Fowler), rushes in to tell them that Winston is dead!
Oh Winston. Poor, poor Winston. I always liked the guy. He was the schmuck in high school that you always knew would hit his stride in college and then become successful. He did. He and Bruce had a company together, (a dot-com -- after all, we are talking California here), and made a small fortune when they sold it. Winston lived large and friendless. His business partnership with Bruce didn't end well and while he and Todd were once best friends, that friendship crashed and burned when Winston discovers that Todd cheated on Liz with Jessica. Fueled by alcohol, he tumbles head first off his balcony. No one knows if it was intentional or not.
Bruce and Elizabeth rush home to tell Todd and Jessica about Winston. Elizabeth, being so upset about the news, totally misses that Todd and Jessica were making out when they walked in. She thought that Todd was just comforting Jessica. Bruce, however, saw everything.
Todd was comforting Jessica, at least before they started swapping spit. Big brother Steven Wakefield had just been there telling-off Jessica and declaring that she was no longer his sister. Steven, a successful lawyer, married high school girlfriend Cara Walker after he finished university. Everyone knows she turned down a post-graduate spot at MIT, (she's a math genius), to stay with him and that he rewards her by having numerous affairs. She, in turn, pretends to be oblivious and bakes away her sadness. Everyone suspects that his current affair is with Lila Fowler but Jessica discovers the truth.
Steven is having an affair alright but with high school soccer star Aaron Dallas. Yes, Steven Wakefield is gay.
Even though she's solemnly promised Steven, after stumbling on one of his trysts with Aaron, that she won't say a word she immediately goes to Cara and tells her. That's why Steven tells off Jessica and Todd "comforts" her.
It's still only days later, when Regan comes to have it out with Jessica and that Elizabeth finds out about Todd and Jessica. Todd rushes to Jessica's defense and even then it's only when Regan tells Elizabeth how stupid she must be to not see it that she gets it. From there she runs away to New York, casts everyone, except her parents and Bruce, out of her life and the story rolls on to the point where we enter eight months later.
Most of this is told in flashbacks. Normally I don't mind flashbacks but the way these were used was kind of annoying. The book is largely told in third person point of view but the flashbacks are in first person. In a single chapter more than one person may have a flashback and they may be flashing back to the same scene. It also made the whole process of telling the back-story take a long time. By the time it's all revealed it's time for the ending. There's a showdown at the twin's grandmother's 80th birthday party. Steven and Aaron are together and still hating Jessica. Everyone kind of hates Todd and Jessica, they don't even like themselves. The Wakefield parents try to keep the peace and Granny is pretty much oblivious. Elizabeth flies across the country and shows up with a hot actor in tow, half hoping that he'll hit on Jessica and that it will cause a scene. When he does, fireworks explode and everything falls to pieces.
Elizabeth goes back to New York and hops into bed with a budding playwright. Blissed out, she returns to her apartment only to find Jessica asleep at her door. After the birthday party, Jessica runs away from Todd, (because that's what she does), deciding that she can live without him but she can't live without her sister. The twins have their reunion and make up. Jessica leaves to go make it right with Todd, because she really does love him, only to find him waiting for her in front of Elizabeth's apartment building.
The wedding is still on! (Jessica's third time down aisle, for those of you keeping track.) Elizabeth goes home to play the role of maid of honor. Bruce picks her up at the airport and makes her promise to come see him later that night because he has something he needs to tell her. Steven tells her that Bruce had sold his house and Elizabeth comes to the conclusion that Bruce is in love with someone. Even after she and Bruce start talking and he tells her that he's in love with someone and moving to New York to be with her, Elizabeth still doesn't realize it's her. Once she clues in, they too hit the sack and soon it's all around Sweet Valley that they are a couple. While there's a throw-away line about how it was the first time Bruce has kissed her, while she was conscious, ("it's complicated"), it seems that Bruce's near-rape of Elizabeth is all forgotten.
The wedding is a true Sweet Valley High reunion. For some reason Todd and Jessica invite a bunch of people they either haven't seen since high school or just plain don't like, such as Enid Rollins. Enid and Elizabeth haven't been friends for a long time but she's at the wedding. She's a gynecologist and having a secret affair with bad boy A.J. Morgan, except it's really not a secret because Caroline Pearce knows -- so everyone knows. She still the same gossip monger she was in high school and runs a popular Sweet Valley gossip blog. At the end of the book, Pascal offers up information on all the major players from the Sweet Valley High years, from Easy Annie right on through to Betsy Martin. The massive update leads me believe, or maybe just hope, that this is the grand finale of the Sweet Valley franchise.
What I liked most about Sweet Valley Confidential is that the perfect image of the Wakefields shatters. We see the Wakefield family for what we always knew it was -- extremely messed up. Of course, Elizabeth still, mostly, comes off as gratingly perfect. She's 27 when she first tells someone to fuck off and no, it's not Jessica. That's a big change in these books -- there's sex and bad language. Thankfully the sex happens "off screen" which I can't help but see as a blessing. There's no way that a Sweet Valley sex scene could ever be good and it wouldn't even be a bad kind of good.
Jessica is, perhaps surprisingly, the character that sees the most growth. While Elizabeth remains largely unchanged, even if she has learned to throw down the f-bomb and sleep around, she's still the person who will forgive Jessica anything -- though it may take her a little longer. She's still the "good" daughter, the perfect twin. Jessica though, has always been messy. She's always been impulsive and she learns that acting on those impulses is a choice. She learns to make mature choices. Jessica is the more grown up twin, for once.
What I liked least is what happened to Winston. He really deserved better. He had a horrible high school experience. He should not have died friendless and alone. I'm having a really hard time with that.
The hands down best part of the novel? When Alice Wakefield tells Ned to bring out the fucking cake. It just doesn't get more perfect that that.
Have you read Sweet Valley Confidential? What did you think?
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