Book Review

Dear Sister from Francine Pascals’ Sweet Valley High, by Kate Williams

D-

Title: Dear Sister
Author: Francine Pascal/Kate Williams
Publication Info: Sweet Valley 1984
ISBN: 0553276727
Genre: Young Adult

There is no shortage of items in this book that make me either want to (a) chuck it at a wall (b) laugh until I hurt myself, or (c) question why on earth I wasted so much of my parents’ money buying these stupid books.

But first, let me take you down memory lane with the opening description that pretty much marked the start of any Sweet Valley High book: When people in the sunny town of Sweet Valley, California, saw a five-foot-six gloriously attractive young girl with sun-streaked blond hair and sparkling blue-green eyes, they knew it was one of the Wakefield twins, but they couldn’t always be sure which one.

Only thing missing in the standard description – which appears on page 1 for God’s sake – is a mention of how the twins are a “perfect size six.” A river of dark, murky, growling ire runs through me every time I think about how many girls, myself included, were tortured by the idea that unless they met that ideal figure and description, they were not “perfect.”

But I’m not here to judge the sexism, racism, and fatism inherent in the Sweet Valley series, nor am I here to opine at the larger effect the series had on young women of my generation. No, no! I am here to tell you how bad this book was.

Was it bad? OMG. Please. It was fucking awful. And yet, I read it. And I paid .01c for it – which was still too much because instead of the drawing cover in the image above, I got one of the later copies of the book that features a photograph of the Daniel twins. In this one, “Elizabeth” is wearing perfect pancake makeup and is covered up to her chin by a hospital blanket so only her giant noggin shows, while “Jessica” is dressed marvelously in shiny iridescent pink taffeta and pink pants. I like the drawing version better, but hey, it was a penny. 

Elizabeth Wakefield lies in a coma because she and her boyfriend Todd got into a motorcycle accident and while he’s fine, she’s nonresponsive. There is, of course, no mention of WHY she’s nonresponsive, or what injuries she sustained. She’s just in a coma. The story opens with Jessica sitting at her bedside, and the narrator going on for two damn pages about how usually you can’t tell them apart, but now Elizabeth looks like crapola on a crapola-colored cracker, and Jessica looks fabulous as usual. But Elizabeth is DYING do you hear me DYING.

Dear Lord.

No, sorry. Dear Sister.

Enter the doctor:

A hand fell on Jessica’s shoulder. Startled, she jerked her head up.

“Miss Wakefield?”

“Yes.”

“I could see the resemblance. You’re both beautiful.”

Jessica regarded the man in his white lab coat….

“I can only guess how painful it is for you to see your sister like this.”

“I’m so worried!”

The man stooped so his face was on a level with hers….

“My name is John Edwards. I’m the neurosurgeon on your sister’s case.”

imageJohn Edwards?! No shit! Hope is on the way!

I know, there’s no way the author could have predicted the name but still. Absurd mental image yielding to complete befuddlement, ahoy!

So aside from the vaguely inappropriate remark by Dr. John Edwards (who also is running for President and talks about the two Americas and the plight of those living below the poverty line, in case you missed the political subtext of the book) and the complete lack of response from Jessica, Dr. Edwards is here to set Jessica straight about her sister’s recovery in a scene filled with angst, emotion, and a whole mess of continued inappropriateness:

“Jessica, accidents happen. They aren’t anyone’s fault. And right now, blame isn’t important. Guiding Elizabeth back to all of us is. I’ll help, Jessica, but it’s really up to you.”

“Me?”

“Talk to her. Just talk to her.” Suddenly he turned, and Jessica saw anger and frustration in his face.

“Jessica, doctors can keep people alive with machines, but we can’t will them to come back to us. Sometimes, it doesn’t happen, no matter how much you and I want it. The only thing we can do is try.”

What the almighty fucking hell are you talking about, John Edwards? You’re the one with the neurosurgery specialty and you’re telling dipshit Jessica it’s all up to her? Dear Lord.

No, Dear Sister!

It’s all up to Jessica to bring Elizabeth back, so she starts whining and pleading with Liz to wake up already, that it’s all Jessica’s fault and everyone loves Elizabeth and whine whine, oh, the angst, the angst.

Add in some crying, some very awkward backflashes to how Elizabeth ended up in a coma in the first place, and it’s worse than anything by page 9. So far, this book is on the annoyance scale between fingernails on a blackboard and the sound of someone using a circular saw to cut ceramic tiles.

Then Dr. Edwards comes back into Elizabeth’s room while Jessica is promising never to forgive Elizabeth if Elizabeth has the audacity to die – and really, were I Elizabeth, given Jessica’s performance that might have been preferable.

Dr. Edwards tells Jessica that her self-flaggellation isn’t what he had in mind, and whereas I wanted Jessica to tell that dimwitted blowhard to get on with the doctoring already and enough with the pathos-ridden babble, Jessica listens to what he says, and starts chatting with Elizabeth as if Elizabeth could answer. So we go from angst to random bits of gossipy, self-absorbed crapola, including a hit list of the plot lines of the past six books of the series. You know how, during the Top 100 shows on VH1, like “Top 100 Utterly Ridiculous Pairs of Socks Of All Time,” they start off each new episode by playing a snippet of every video in that countdown? It’s like that, only instead of 100-10, there’s only six books of plot lines to go over, thank the good Lord.

Then, miracle of miracles, Elizabeth moans.

“You deserve a lot of the credit, Jessica”

“I do?” Jessica shivered with pride, relief, and just plain ecstasy. Elizabeth was awake and she’d helped….

“Liz. Hey Lizzie. Time to wake up.”

It’s only page 12! There’s a whole entire book to get through – and really, the back cover description makes it sound like Elizabeth will be blissfully comatose through most of it. No such luck for her, or for me. 

Elizabeth’s eyes opened fully. She stared at her twin sister and moistened her dry lips.

“Jessica!”

And like that, It is ON – the un-blurbed plot that isn’t mentioned in the back copy. Elizabeth now thinks that she’s Jessica. Whoa, nelly. We can’t have two sixteen year old twins with impulse control issues who symbolically represent the Id without one of them representing the Super-ego. This is a disaster!

I won’t bore you with the entire book except to invite you to shuffle the following plot cards. No matter what order you choose, you’ll get the basic plot of the book.

1. Elizabeth does something very Jessica-like: e.g. is thoughtless, self-centered, flirtatious, and generally awful.

2. Jessica notices that Elizabeth is “different” or that “something is wrong,” but doesn’t know what to do.

3. An ancillary character notices that Elizabeth is “different” or that “something is wrong,” but when that character mentions their concerns to Jessica, ol’ Jess blows up at them for saying something unkind about her Dear Sister.

4. Jessica has to save Elizabeth from one scrape or another, such as getting into trouble with their parents, or going out past curfew, or failing a test.

5. Elizabeth tells Jessica she’s being a stick in the mud.

6. Jessica is pissed off that she isn’t having any fun because Elizabeth is getting all the attention for her short skirts, sexy flirtation, and utterly Jessica-like behavior. It’s a double-switch identity crisis. Oh noes!

Enter Bruce Patman, the slimeball rich kid who took advantage of Jessica in an earlier book, and has had it in for her, and for Elizabeth, ever since. Elizabeth, it seems, has given Bruce the brush-off ever since he dared mess with Jessica, and since Elizabeth is an unfailingly loyal and utterly milquetoast kind of girl, she sides with Jessica and hates Bruce.

But Elizabeth-acting-like-Jessica thinks Bruce is atche-ay-dubble-yew-tee HAWT. Elizabeth-as-Jessica thinks her boyfriend, Todd of the motorcycle of coma-inducing power, is coma-inducing himself, and wants nothing to do with him. She wants Bruuuuce. And Bruce is very pleased with this turn of events.

Now, it would have been very sexy, and very intriguing if there had been a subtext of vindication or even validation for Bruce: he’s a slimeball, but there was ample opportunity to turn him into a slimeball who could be cured by the power of Luuuurve™.  Of course, that does happen later, but for now, Bruce wants to get in Elizabeth’s pants and he has nefarious intentions with no emotional redemptive possibilities behind them. He’s a date rapist, pure and simple. He tries to get her drunk at a party, and Todd rescues her. Then Jessica tries to intervene, but not before Bruce escapes (in his Porsche, of course) with Elizabeth to take her on a tour of his beach house.

Bruce…pulled her onto a large white couch and began kissing her again.

“Ummmmm, Bruce,” she murmured.

“You like this, don’t you Liz?” He let one hand slide lightly onto her breast, waiting to see if she would protest.

“That feels so good, Bruce. ” Elizabeth sighed and ran her fingers through his dark hair, then pulled him closer.

Elizabeth couldn’t see his triumphant smile and didn’t know he planned to gloat about his victory over the girl who had always snubbed him.

And there you have it: the moment my young pre-teen self almost passed out. Bruce copped a feel and they used the word “breast” in a Sweet Valley High novel.

As a not-at-all-pre-teen reading the scene? My reaction was somewhere between, “Oh, yawn” and “Dear Lord.” Also Dear Sister.

So can I spoil the ending for you? It’s just too doofy and unreal not to.

Elizabeth and Bruce kiss their way upstairs, and it looks like Bruce might actually get into Elizabeth’s pants, when he decides to go downstairs for more wine (and one would hope, a condom). Elizabeth, confused in the dark, starts hearing a buzzing in her head, trips, and slams her head on a table. She doesn’t know where she is! It’s a strange bedroom! She doesn’t remember getting there! And then Bruce Patman walks in with wine and a big leer, and she goes running out of there, completely terrified.

She goes right to Dr. Edwards, the neurosurgeon, right? Gets herself the mother of all CAT scans?

Ha. Dear me, no.

She goes running down the beach away from Bruce.

It was wonderful to know who she was and where she was again. A brilliant moon sailed through the dark sky, and she wanted to yell, “Hi there, you old moon!” She wanted to thank the stars for still shining. The sound of the surf crashing on the beach was a symphony.

Dear Lord. [NO, Dear Sister!]

It’s an amnesia storyline except that Elizabeth had no idea that she was acting out of character. She never confessed to not knowing who she was or to even the slightest bit of confusion, until she whapped her head on a table and realized she was about to do the boingy-boing with Bruce Patman. Only then does she remember that she didn’t remember but now she does remember – and I’d sure like to not remember I read this book, personally.

Elizabeth runs right into Todd, who “looked for a moment into Elizabeth’s eyes…. those beautiful sea-colored eyes were the ones he know, the tearstained face was the one he loved.” It’s her! It’s really her! And Elizabeth is all teary because she doesn’t understand what’s going on.

Are they on the way to the neurosurgeon yet? Of course not. They go… walk on the beach! Because Elizabeth is back to being Elizabeth, and all is well.

One of the reviewers on Amazon, an Australian named “Nu-Girl,” writes, “How Elizabeth finally regains her memory and identity in the dark is so simple, so rational and yet so wholly unexpected that it neatly merges with the escapist / fantasy tradition of this genre without losing its believability.”

I don’t know about that – there’s no neat merging for me, nor is it the slightest bit rational. And believability? What malarkey. The whole resolution is unbelievable, not to mention enough of a blue-balls read to make me and many, many other readers turn to more satisfying romance novels, where the word “breast” is one of many words used to describe the hummuna-hummuna action.

What I find amusing is how many readers share that experience with me – this book somehow led them to look for more satisfying reads in a sexual and emotionally climactic sense, and ultimately led to a romance reading habit like mine. I suppose I should have some feelings of appreciation for Dear Sister, but really, it just makes me say repeatedly under my breath, “Dear LORD.”


And finally, the winner of my Dear Lord It’s Dear Sister contest! It took me 42 minutes to read this book, and I dog-eared 30 pages. My grade: D-.

The person who came closest to guessing was : Jaynie R! Congrats Jaynie – enjoy your free books. Maybe if you’re lucky my copy of Dear Sister will be one of them! MWaaaahahahahahahahahaaaaa.

 

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    KellyMaher says:

    Oh jeez!  If I hadn’t been so wildly off with the time, I could have won!  Thanks for suffering for us, Sarah :)

  2. 2
    MaryKate says:

    Dear Lord (no Dear Sister!), Sarah, you are a GIVER! Big GIVER!

    Thanks for taking one for the team, and congrats Jaynie!

  3. 3
    MamaNice says:

    Aaaah, it IS as bad as I remember!
    Thanks for the ride on the nostalgia train SB! Congrats to the winnah.

    Oh, and the hitting-head-to-fix-amnesia-thing? All I could think of was Uncle Fester.

  4. 4
    Kim says:

    Bwah ha ha ha. You are a brave, brave woman.

    But you forgot to mention the lavaliers. They have matching lavaliers, you know. They only mentioned it in every.single.book. As a pre-teen reading these, I always wondered what the hell a lavalier was and why they cared so much.

  5. 5
    smartmensab-tch says:

    Thank Goddess I never read any of the Sweet Valley High books!

  6. 6
    Lorelie says:

    My MIL still has a few copies that once belonged to my SIL.  I have fond memories of the SVH so I’d noticed them but not been inclined to read any.  Now, being told of the god-awfulness, I think I’m going to reread them when we go visit. 

    I think I’m warped.

  7. 7
    Chicklet says:

    John Edwards?! No shit! Hope is on the way!

    This was the part where I laughed out loud in my cubicle at work. Naturally, I heard all of his quoted dialogue in candidate!John’s voice. Oh, Breck Girl: attorney *and* neurosurgeon—you’re so smart!

    Thanks for taking one for the team; somehow I managed to never read a SVH book, and now I don’t have to!

  8. 8
    Tracy says:

    I remember that hand on the breast scene. I was scandalized!! I dog eared that page and read it over and over again LOLOLOL I also kept looking around me (we were driving somewhere on vacation) as if my mom or dad could tell what was happening in the book by the way I was acting!

  9. 9

    Wow…that was really bad. I can’t believe I read that crap and loved it. Were those quotes for real? *shudder*
    The plot reminds me of something from Days of Our Lives. It just needs a Stephano.

    And Sarah your notes are too funny. Can you stand to read a few more?

  10. 10
    SB Sarah says:

    I dunno. Someone emailed me off-site and said they were calling my midwife to report my reckless behavior. Apparently these books are so bad I’m risking early labor.

    But if you have a recommendation, I’ll read another. I’ve read most of them, I’m embarrassed to say.

  11. 11
    Kat says:

    I was more of a Sweet Dreams girl myself, although I’m sure I read at a least a couple of SWHs. But the book that gave me thrills was the one about Caitlin and … Jed? Jeff? Something like that. I’m pretty sure it was by Francine Pascal as well. For the longest time, I wanted to name my daughter Caitlin.

    Oh, and lol @ Tracy. I was the almost same, except I never dog-eared. I memorised page numbers. :-D

  12. 12

    *groan* I remember the lavaliers. Yep, they were prominently featured. 

    So Elizabeth thinks she’s Jessica, but doesn’t notice people are calling her “Elizabeth”? Or she’s just had a wierd personality change—but then, why the amnesia?

    The human brain is a magical thing, is it not?

    And when I saw “John Edwards” I thought of the Crossing Over guy, and wondered why he didn’t just do some crazy mind-meld with comatose Lizzie.

  13. 13
    Teddy Pig says:

    It’s all dipshit Jessica’s fault because the good doctor said it’s all up to her.

    Later Liz will collect guns and high explosives then one day Sweet Valley High will know her wrath.

  14. 14
    RB says:

    Although I confess to reading many of these, I think I would remember the hand on the breast scene.  After all, I will never forget Judy Blume’s “Forever.”  It is “forever” etched in my mind.
    Loved, loved this review my friend.  It was just breathtakingly spectacular.

  15. 15
    L.E. Bryce says:

    When I think John Edwards, I think that shyster who claims to be able to talk to dead people.

  16. 16
    Ishie says:

    Incidentally, after Elizabeth got another wang on the head, she changed her name to “Buffy”, moved to Sunnydale, and blew up her high school…

    Gods, I not only used to read those books, I read Sweet Valley TWINS, in case the SVH books were too nuanced and sophisticated.

  17. 17
    Barbara S. says:

    Oh yikes.  I went to Middle School (grades 6 through 8) with the Daniel twins, who played the Sweet Valley twins in that TV series.  Since I never read the SVH books, I tend to associate those characters with the REAL twins, who ruled the school in terms of popularity (predictably).  I bet the fictional Jessica never got her mini-skirt and underwear pulled down to her ankles in the middle of the 7th-grade hallway between classes, but the real one sure did, and it was the SCANDAL OF THE YEAR.  Middle Schoolers can be really nasty.

  18. 18
    sara says:

    I’ve probably suggested this before, but if you’re going to risk another of these (little Skynyrd can take it, I bet), I’m voting for On the Edge, the after-school-specialest of all the SVH books. And look, it’s only a penny, too!

    Or Malibu Summer, which is the SVH equivalent of one of those Baby-Sitter’s Club super-specials. Or the one where Regina gets her hearing back and then gets kidnapped because her daddy is a Silicon Valley bajillionaire, which kind of answers the question, “Where is Sweet Valley?” with the answer, “San Francisco.” And then begs the other question, “Then where are all the gays?” “Hiding from the terrible fashions and hairstyles on the cover, der.”

    Ah yes, that book is called Kidnapped. How simple.

    Whatever you do, don’t read the Sweet Valley Anthologies, about the Wakefield ancestry. OMG, so bad.

  19. 19
    Teddy Pig says:

    No gheys? Father works in Silicon Valley?

    Oh, well then Sweet Valley is obviously near Modesto California where those midwest family values and big hair shine on. All teh gheys run from that place shortly after birth and find shelter in the Bay Area.

  20. 20
    Vernieda says:

    Oh god, the memories!  I’m ashamed to admit I made my parents buy these books for me and take me to the library so I borrow them.  (Luckily I borrowed more than I bought or I’d have been terribly embarrassed.)

    I read Sweet Valley High, Sweet Valley Twins and the anthologies about the ancestors.  Dear

    Lord

    Sister, what was wrong with me?

  21. 21
    Lady T says:

    As soon as you mentioned the part where Elizabeth wakes up and thinks she’s Jessica,I immediately had a Gillian’s Island flashback-there was one episode where Mary Anne hit her head and all of a sudden,thought she was Ginger. She even walked around in Ginger’s clothes and acted all psuedo-slutty like Ginger.

    IIRC,Ginger had to go along with this mess(the Professor insisted-btw,they never said what he was a professor of exactly,but anything involving some brainwork always got tossed his way)and even dressed up like Mary Anne. The situation was pretty much resolved in the same way as Dear Sister’s(except for the almost date rape). I never read the Sweet Valley books,but turns out I wasn’t missing out on anything that I could see on old school TV reruns!:)

  22. 22
    sleeky says:

    “Thank Goddess I never read any of the Sweet Valley High books!”

    Now here *I* was thinking I had really missed out!

  23. 23
    Becky says:

    My best friend had every single SVH book.  I borrowed from her when I could and saved my money for the Sunfire books- you know, the historicals named for their main character.  Sabrina, Rachel, Danielle, whatever.  LOVED THEM when I was 12.  I reread one last fall.  Oh, dear indeed.

    better94- No, I’m pretty sure they were still bad then, too.

  24. 24
    Tracy says:

    Becky, I read all those Sunfire books too~LOVED, LOVED, LOVED them. Haven’t read one in awhile LOL Pretty bad huh?

  25. 25
    Nonny says:

    *chuckles*

    I read a lot of the Sweet Valley (Twins / High / University / various other series…) as a young teen. I remember liking them a lot back then, but I think I’d be horrified now.

    Then again, I might not expect much from the literary equivalent of a soap opera. lol

  26. 26
    eliz. says:

    Thankfully, I never owned one of these books . . . I just got my hand on every copy of the series the local library had.  What is extremely sad is that I remember the trivial things about the characters, even though it has been over 15 years (YIKES!) since I read the books.  The sisters had a Fiat, their brother’s girlfriend died of leukemia, and even more that I wish I could forget.

    Next – take on “Logan Loves Maryanne” from the Babysitters Club series! It’s not very racy, but still.

  27. 27
    Jennifer says:

    I’ve been to Modesto. It’s a pit. The pretty Sweet Valleyites wouldn’t breathe in that direction.

    I just wanted to beg that the Smart Bitches do more SV reviews. This is too fabulous! I know other sites online snark on the books, but…well, I love some Smart Bitches too :)

  28. 28
    Robyn says:

    Becky, I LOVED the Sunfire books. Sabrina was my favorite- please review it if you can find it, Sarah!

  29. 29
    Liz C. says:

    Why can I not remember this book? I must’ve blocked it from my mind. That seems to be the case with most SVH and SVU and the SV Twins books. I read and owned tons of them and I couldn’t tell you specifics from a single title. Except that I do remember that in college Jessica had an affair with a professor.

    I do remember the constant reminders of the “perfect size 6” and the “sea-green eyes” but I don’t think they warped my image. Probably because I was reading these books before I got out of kids sizes so I had no frame of reference for how big or small a size 6 was.

  30. 30
    Carrie Lofty says:

    “Hi there, you old moon!”

    *snort*

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