Wake up, Wakefields!
As young girls, my friends and I were obsessed with the Sweet Valley High books. We tried to collect them all, we swapped them with each other, and we idolized the characters Jessica and Elizabeth. There’s just one major problem: Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield were absolutely horrible role models. Not only did they completely fail each other, but they also completely failed at teaching girls how to be independent people with morals and values. As part of Fodor’s Book Club, we’re examining these iconic books and whether their lessons have stood the test of time.
The Sweet Valley Books Had a Fat-Shaming Problem
Everyone who loved Sweet Valley knows the Wakefield twins were a perfect size six. But you know who wasn’t? Pretty much everyone else in the world—and the twins (particularly Jessica) used it against people pretty regularly. For example, in Book 4, Power Play, when Robin Wilson wanted to join Pi Beta Alpha (the weird high-school-only sorority Jessica was in), Jessica wouldn’t let her because Robin weighed more than Jessica thought was appropriate. So instead, Jessica forced her to do humiliating hazing tasks until Robin basically developed an eating disorder and lost a ton of weight. Then, and only then, did Jessica make Robin co-captain of the cheerleading team.
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A Lesson in Responsibility and Ownership
How often does Elizabeth take the fall for Jessica’s antics? Oh, that’s right, in basically every single book. The sisters work together for this terrible example of how to act by one of them never taking responsibility for her actions and the other always taking the fall, even when she shouldn’t. There’s not a specific book for this one because, good god Elizabeth, just let Jessica take the fall for once! Consider this a life lesson in both responsibility and ownership.
Learning to Never Give It All to a Man
Bruce Patman. Was there any other boy in all of Sweet Valley who pushed the girls’ buttons so much? For whatever reason, they were in love with him, which makes Book 3, Playing With Fire, a dream come true for Jessica. She officially starts dating Bruce! But there’s one major problem, and it’s that Bruce is a total douche. He cheats on Jessica, gets her to do things for him she shouldn’t (like stealing a test so he can cheat, though she passed that job onto lesser Sweet Valleyans), and basically enables her to do whatever he wants all the time. Soon, Jessica becomes a shell of her former self, deliberately stifling parts of her personality. For a creep. Which no one should do, ever.
Lessons in Accepting New People
In this book, we go two hours from the Wakefield twins’ Sweet Valley home as they enter the big leagues of Sweet Valley University. All the gang’s there for SVU Book One, College Girls: Jessica, Elizabeth, Todd, Winston, and Enid. But Enid has a surprise for everyone. She’s changing her image to become super fashionable, pledging a sorority, and changing her name to Alexandra. Poor sheltered Elizabeth clearly can’t handle change, though, and vehemently disagrees with the entire plan, refusing to accept the life Alexandra needs to live. Way to teach everyone to be accepting of their friends and their preferences, Elizabeth.
Slut Shaming Never Ages Well
Poor Annie Whitman. In Book 10, Wrong Kind of Girl, all she wants to do is join the cheerleading squad. But as we know, Jessica rules the cheerleading squad. And she had made a solemn vow to never, ever, let Annie onto the team. Not because of her talent or anything, though. It’s because Jessica thinks Annie has too bad of a reputation. She’s even got a nickname: Easy Annie. Annie, of course, has no idea what everyone thinks of her or that she’s maybe accidentally flirting with people. But slut-shaming Jessica will have none of it and actively bullies the rest of the squad into voting against Annie. Annie’s devastated when she finds out she didn’t make the team (which Jessica couldn’t even be bothered to say to her face) and runs home to attempt suicide. There’s no evidence that Jessica learned her lesson even by the end of the book, because her solution was to just let Annie on the squad if it would make her feel better.
A Character in Denial
Would you ever want to stay with someone who chooses to dump you so they can have a trial run dating another girl? Probably not—but Elizabeth does. In Book 84, The Stolen Diary, Todd Wilkins dumps her so he can date Peggy Abott. Elizabeth immediately goes into denial, telling everyone it was a mutual decision and they’re just having a trial separation. She even naively thinks Todd is still going to ask her to the school dance. Move on, girl. And also grow a spine, because after Todd feels it out with Peggy, he wants Elizabeth back. And she immediately accepts.
Jessica’s Prejudice Against Deaf People
In Book 13, Kidnapped!, the main storyline is that Elizabeth has been kidnapped on her way home from work (while Jessica was fuming that Elizabeth was late, of course). But the sub-story here that many might not have noticed is that Jessica low-key refuses to date someone who’s Deaf. Regina Morrow and her family — including her super-hot brother Nicholas—have moved to town and are throwing a party. Regina is Deaf (at least in this book?) and appears to be ignoring Jessica, who assumes Regina is just drunk because she’s not getting all the attention. And then, once she realizes Regina is Deaf, she inquires after Nicholas to see if he’s Deaf too. Because that would make him undesirable to Jessica.
Lessons on Codependency
Jessica and Elizabeth. Elizabeth and Jessica. The two are inseparable—and completely codependent. They can’t do anything without the other doing it too or coming along, like when they both wanted to be prom queen, or they both decided to be a model, or every time they meddled in one another’s love lives. The girls really needed to focus on developing their own lives rather than living in each other’s. There’s not a specific book to showcase this trait of the two; you’ll just have to read literally any Sweet Valley High book.
Jessica: The Boyfriend Stealer
Fans of Sweet Valley, did you know that Francine Pascal released a new book in 2011? It’s called Sweet Valley Confidential: Ten Years Later. I hate to break it to you, but the twins are still complete nightmares. We start the book with the shocking revelation that Jessica and Elizabeth are no longer on speaking terms. What?! How did this happen? Well, sweet Jessica, who apparently never learned any lessons from her time in high school or college, stole Elizabeth’s longtime boyfriend-turned-fiancé Todd Wilkins and was planning to marry him. Oh, and let’s make it worse, shall we? Jessica and Todd embarked on their torrid affair…while Jessica was married. How’s that for loyalty?
The Golden Rule Is Always Honesty
In what’s perhaps one of the most formative Sweet Valley books of our young DARE-infused lives (that’s Drug Abuse Resistance Education, FYI), Book 40 On the Edge introduces hard drugs to the high school. And somebody dies. And Elizabeth was part of the problem. (Though not the actual problem, because if we’ve learned anything from Jessica, it’s that people should take responsibility for their own actions.)
So basically, Bruce Patman was dating Regina Morrow, but he was being chased by Amy Sutton. And as we’ve already established that Bruce the Douche can’t be trusted, he goes to a party at the Wakefield house with Regina and sneaks off to make out with Amy while they’re there. As for Elizabeth, she knew Bruce and Amy were fooling around but declined to tell her friend Regina. Regina sees the make-out sesh, high-tails it to a drug party, does one line of cocaine to ease her depression, and instantly dies. Would this have happened if Elizabeth told Regina the truth? Probably, but either way—be honest with your friends.