Double Love – a book review
Title: Double Love (#1)
Author: Kate William (a ghostwriter, series created by Francine Pascal)
Publisher: Bantam Books
Price: $5.18 (USD, paperback, previously owned)
I recently unearthed old copies of the Sweet Valley High series at a local used bookstore. Just seeing the cover of Double Love transported me back to seventh grade, and spending rainy days reading about the trials and tribulations of the ever-perfect teenage twins, Elizabeth and Jessica Wakefield. These books are directly responsible for my misconceptions about high school (real high school is nowhere near as exciting or interesting), and set me up for great disappointment in terms of the sort of romantic adventures I might have (none – there were no Todd Wilkinses at my school. At all.).
Still, they’re an easy read, amusing, and laugh-out-loud terrible in some spots now that I’m reading them again as a 36 year old.
The first three pages are not dedicated to story telling, or world building as you might expect. No. They are dedicated to talking about the twins appearance by way of Jessica complaining about how “gross” she is. Let me regale you with the catalogue of horrors that are the Wakefield twins:
- “…disgustingly fat….” (and “[w]ith that, [Jessica] spun around to show off a stunning figure without an extra ounce visible anywhere.”).
- “…perfectly shaped bronze leg[s].”
- Jessica is “…the most adorable, most dazzling, sixteen-year-old girl imaginable.”
- “silky blonde hair” (on the book cover, Jessica has a comb-over that would make Donald Trump jealous)
- “almond-shaped eyes the blue-green of the Caribbean”
- And, both have “the same shoulder-length, sun-streaked blonde hair, the same sparkling blue-green eyes, the same perfect skin…Both girls were five feet six on the button and generously blessed with spectacular, all-American good looks.”
Oh, and they’re a size six, too. Yeah.
The first three pages are very indicative of how the rest of the book, and series, is written – everything is about the twins, and whatever is happening, you can be sure that their perfect beauty will be part of the scene, and/or that they are the focus of solving problems (their own, other people’s…)
Anyway, on to the plot! Jessica has her sights set on Todd Wilkins, the star basketball player. And Jessica, being the conniving bag of twats she is, usually gets her man. But Todd, he of the “tanned, muscular chest” and, “compelling presence” has his “gorgeous brown eyes” set on Elizabeth. Elizabeth wants him, too, but, in keeping with her martyrdom complex, assumes that she is no competition for the “dazzling Jessica Wakefield”, so she decides to just let Jessica have her own way.
I don’t remember any of the boys in my class when I was 16 having a particularly “compelling presence” or being terribly “tanned and muscular”. Weedy, pimply, and dull? Often. Interested in girls who were not me? Definitely. But not the rest.
The main subplot (if there is such a thing) centres on Jessica: she, always a little short on brains and common sense, gets mixed up with a guy named Rick Andover. Rick takes her to the local “dive” bar and proceeds to get shit-faced. Once drunk, he gets into a bar fight that has to be broken up by the police. Jessica, never one for honesty, lets the police believe that she is Elizabeth. Todd finds out, wedges the stick up his ass in there a little more firmly, and decides that Jessica is the girl for him after all because poor old Lizzie is practically a criminal.
Oh, heartbreak and misery and misunderstandings…it’s like Shakespeare with none of the clever writing, or interesting plot points, or characters.
A sub-sub plot (so many things going on! how do they ever resolve it in 182 pages?): the twins make some wild assumptions about their Dad’s late hours with a not-yet-partner in his law firm. He’s working late! His colleague is attractive and female! He MUST be having an affair. Nice folks who live in Sweet Valley don’t have affairs. Plus, their super hot older brother, Steven, is dating the “trashy” Tricia Martin; Stevie loves her, but is ashamed of her less-than-spectacular pedigree.
The tangled misunderstandings get sorted out. Todd forgives Elizabeth (how noble of him) and they share a kiss that “was sweeter than anything she imagined”, Jessica gets a little comeuppance (she gets tossed into the school pool fully-clothed, after being a righteous bitch to her sister), Mum and Dad’s marriage is fine – Ned Wakefield was, shockingly, only helping his colleague become a partner in the firm after all – and Steven admits it’s OK to be with Tricia because he loves her, not her terrible family.
When I was 12, I loved these books because I wanted this exciting drama to be my life. I wanted to have intrigue, and access to Fiat Spider convertible, and to have the star player of any sport get all moony over me. These books were the Twilight of my youth! I, of course, identified with Elizabeth most (so sensitive! wants to be a real writer someday!) and I longed to have the complications of her life.
Now I see that these books are basically a bad sitcom in prose, and the people in it are more caricatures than characters. Jessica is a selfish bitch; Elizabeth is a (mostly) spineless martyr; their parents are the Cosby’s (if the Cosby’s were white – Sweet Valley is all about the white people until later in the series). All problems can be fixed by having a BBQ and taking a dip in the backyard pool. Despite the near-death experiences, kidnappings, amnesia, personality disorders, deaths and other dramatic goings-on in Sweet Valley later in the series, it used to seem ideal: the main characters are always come out on top and their happiness is always assured!
These are not exactly worth the read, but they are fun and funny from an adult perspective. If you’ve got an hour and a couple of dollars to spare, pick one up at a used bookstore and have a giggle.
NB: Originally pub. on July 22, 2013.