Elizabeth and Jessica Wakefield. If there were two characters that summed up the 1990s, it was these golden-haired,high achieving twin California girls of the Sweet Valley High book and television series.
Both the books and the TV show paved the way for high-stakes teen dramas like The OC, Gossip Girl, and even Pretty Little Liars. Besides all of the regular high-school drama, SVH had wealth, intrigue, deception and even murder as plot devices.
Since the demise of the television series after four seasons in 1997, fans of the books and show alike have been hankering for a film adaptation. Rumours swirled several years ago that Juno writer Diablo Cody would take the reins of the movie project, but this ended up stalling and going nowhere, that is until recently.
In July it was announced that Paramount had gotten hold of two brilliant writers to co-write the script for a movie reboot. Kirsten ‘Kiwi’ Smith has writing credits including iconic movies like Legally Blonde, 10 Things I Hate About You, and underrated gem She’s The Man. The other writer, Harper Dill, works on the hilarious comedy The Mick. With these two comedy queens at the helm, it’s going to be one hell of a film, with the traditional outlandish plot twists the show and books were renowned for.
The Sweet Valley High book series was the brainchild of New Yorker Francine Pascal, who started out as a soap opera scriptwriter and wrote her first YA novel in 1977. The first Sweet Valley High book was published in 1983, and a whopping 603 books were published in the series until its end in 2003. There were also numerous spinoffs of the original book series, from Sweet Valley University to Sweet Valley Junior High. Much like another iconic YA series, The Babysitters Club, many of the books were actually written by a team of ghostwriters – with Pascal giving them general story directions.
One ghostwriter, Amy Boesky, described the process in a fascinating blog post.
“I liked the discipline of writing SVH, the structure. Francine created the story plots, which arrived in my mailbox in manila envelopes and, when I took them out and studied them, read like long, free-verse poems. Eight or nine pages of single spaced directives that laid out exhilarating and implausible fables of duplicity, innovation, risk, and triumph.
“My task was to turn these into “chapter outlines,” adding my own subplots, mailing them back to my editor, and waiting for his approval. Once I got the green light, I worked with the precision of a Swiss clock.”
With titles like When Love Dies, Kidnapped!, Hostage, and A Deadly Christmas, you get the idea that the Wakefield twins didn’t lead the most low-key of lives. The book covers were pastel coloured, with dramatic painted illustration of one or both of the twins, usually thinking about how much trouble they were in with their boyfriends/parent/the police. Once one of the twins accidentally joined a cult, while another fell in love with a French jewel thief while working as a nanny abroad.
Although much was made about how physically identical the twins were, most of the drama came from the fact that their personalities were polar opposites of each other.
Jessica was the meaner of the two, a prototype for characters like Regina George. She was a partier, captain of the cheerleading squad, and a master of deception and lies. She cheated on tests and boyfriends alike, and sabotaged anyone who got in her way – including her sister Elizabeth. (She even spiked her drink at a cool dance. Slightly extreme). She was also just plain mean. She said this to a poor guy on a date: “Hamburgers are gauche. What I like is called haute cuisine. You guys probably don’t know what that means.”
Elizabeth was the pure and good counterpart to ‘Hurricane Jessica). She was studious, with ambitions to become a professional journalist, and had none of the snobbishness or social climbing ambitions of her wild sister. That’s not to say she was a total angel, cheating on many of her boyfriends. This is Sweet Valley High after all.
The TV Series
The TV series aired from 1994 to 1997, but repeats meant that it was on TV for years after it ended. The Wakefields were played by Brittany and Cynthia Daniel, and if you want to know what they’re up to, they still seem to be living those perfect California girl lives if their shared Instagram is any indication.
The show is by far one of the most dramatic, and even hammy creations ever to grace television but it is so fun to watch. From the iconic theme song to the…interesting dialouge, it’s nothing if not entertaining.
Just look at this clip from the episode, Kidnapped!
THE DRAMA OF IT ALL, I CAN’T KEEP UP.
There’s no word as to whether the Daniel sisters will return to the show, even for a cameo, but it would be great to see. Casting rumours are sure to begin surfacing soon, and with a massive supporting cast of evil rivals, handsome, strong-jawed boyfriends, and cheerleaders to fill, it’s going to be an exciting few months.
The show and book series may have been some of the most ridiculous stories ever told, but for escapism, you really can’t beat Sweet Valley High.
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