June 17, 2024

Sweet Valley Twins Are Back, and, Like Readers, Fully Adult

It is all the more scandalous to their fans, then, that a new spinoff, “Sweet Valley Confidential,” depicts the identical twins, now 27, in an angry rift, living on separate coasts, drinking, having casual sex and — gasp — enjoying it.

“I’ve had people who have questioned Elizabeth having orgasms,” said Francine Pascal, the creator of the original series and author of the new book. “And I say to them, if they’re listening, would you deny a 27-year-old woman the right to have an orgasm?”

Nostalgia is big in publishing these days, with prequels, sequels or reissued versions of books like “The Baby-Sitters Club,” “The Boxcar Children” and even “The Official Preppy Handbook.”

Now St. Martin’s Press, the publisher of “Sweet Valley Confidential,” is navigating the trickiness of reviving a beloved series and directing it not at a new generation of readers but at the people who were devoted to it the first time around.

Online comment boards have been ablaze with fans who are shocked by a major plotline revealed in the book’s opening pages: Jessica has betrayed her sister by planning to marry Elizabeth’s ex-boyfriend, the handsome but bland Todd Wilkins.

Despite some stinging reviews, those 20- and 30-somethings who obsessively devoured the series when they were in their early teens have propelled the new book onto The New York Times best-seller list, where it will make its debut on Sunday. (The gossip blogger Perez Hilton announced the book with the giddy headline, “It’s here! New Sweet Valley book released!”)

“We were surprised by the reaction,” said Dan Weiss, the publisher at large at St. Martin’s, part of Macmillan. “It speaks to the fact that initially there was a real core group of fanatic fans, who are always the preservationists. They don’t want things to change.”

Ms. Pascal is not unsympathetic. “Sweet Valley was their adolescence and I’ve done some very radical things,” she said. “But you are different from that inchoate person of 16, and you have to allow that change to those characters.”

Much about the original books has remained the same. The series, which was introduced in 1983, chronicled the high school dramas of the Wakefield twins, Jessica, the flirtatious diva, and Elizabeth, the virtuous goody-goody. (Both were popular and beautiful.)

In “Sweet Valley Confidential,” which was released March 29, the idyllic Southern California town of Sweet Valley is still the home of many of the original cast of characters from the series, including the rich and snobby Lila Fowler, the gossipy Caroline Pearce, the nerdy Enid Rollins and the mysteriously reformed villain Bruce Patman.

Ms. Pascal, who is spry and platinum-haired at 72, dreamed up the series in the early 1980s, even though she had never visited California. She grew up in Queens, studied journalism at New York University and wrote for magazines and soap operas before starting a career as a novelist writing for the young-adult market.

Sitting on a velvety powder-blue chair in the living room of her apartment in Midtown Manhattan, a warmly lighted space decorated in feminine tones of lemon and gold, Ms. Pascal recalled how she easily sold the first six books of the series after brainstorming with her agent, Amy Berkower.

“There was nothing like this at the time,” Ms. Pascal said. “There were romance books, but this was different. And one of the great differences was that these books were girl-driven, and this was very important to me. So with two girls I had girl power. That gave it great appeal.”

Librarians rejected the books at first, arguing that they were too flimsy and entertaining and not literary enough, but after the series became an instant hit, luring previously reluctant readers to libraries, many of them relented.

Eventually, the Sweet Valley franchise grew to include hundreds of books that have sold 150 million copies worldwide, according to St. Martin’s. Most of them were written by ghostwriters who faithfully followed Ms. Pascal’s detailed plot outlines and her so-called bible, a book with all of the crucial facts and figures of the series to keep the stories consistent.

“They had that fabulous aspirational sense,” said Barbara Marcus, a children’s book expert and adviser to Open Road Integrated Media. “It looked unique, it was packaged well, and there was the idea of a good and bad twin.”

Unlike the “Gossip Girl” books that came of age in the 2000s, Ms. Pascal’s series was relatively tame, without explicit sex scenes or vulgarities, and often with highly moralistic messages. (Legions of young readers were left with the impression that if you snorted cocaine only once, it would kill you, as the unlucky Regina Morrow learned in “On the Edge.”)

Hilary Teeman, the editor of “Sweet Valley Confidential,” said that to bring the series into the present tense, the characters couldn’t be the childhood heroines that they once were.

“You remember how innocent and chaste they were,” said Ms. Teeman, who read the books when she was younger. “But when you make it an adult novel, naturally some of that innocence has to go away. This is a novel for adults, and we expect these characters to grow up and be adults.”

Ms. Pascal said she was already considering writing another book, now that “Sweet Valley Confidential” had received some positive reviews and achieved best-seller status. A film based on the original series is in the works.

“I knew that this one would wake up those readers, the old fans,” she said. “But that’s the whole point of it.”

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/17/business/media/17sweet.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

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