Love and Death in London
I recently attended a party where everyone got a nametag when they arrived and the nametag needed to include not only your name but also the title of your favorite childhood book or series. The friend I was with agonized over her choice weighing the pros and cons of each title, series, and character from her youth but not me. I barely skipped a beat as I scribbled my name and wrote SWEET VALLEY HIGH in big letters before hitting up the cheese table.
I am not exaggerating when I say that until I was about 13 the only books I read were Sweet Valley books. I must have realized that there were many other options out there and of course I dabbled with other series and titles here and there but nothing pulled me in the way the sagas of Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield did. I can still remember my sixth grade teacher coming up to me during one of our silent reading periods having noticed that I was completely absorbed in The Sweet Valley Saga: The Wakefield Legacy (the Sweet Valley Saga stories were the BEST) and noting, “So you do like reading.” It had never occurred to me that wanting to read only one series might make it appear that I was uninterested in reading, which was not the case at all. I just saw no point in branching out when everything I needed could be found in Sweet Valley, California. Need some advice on how to deal with a jealous frenemy? Lila and Jessica have you covered. Tips for a budding career in journalism? Look no further than Mr. Collins, advisor for The Oracle and Elizabeth’s favorite English teacher. Interested in community preservation vs. modernization? The family feud between the Patmans and the Fowlers is sure to offer much insight and thanks to the Sweet Valley Saga series I also learned about romance during World War II, living on the frontier, and Prohibition among other things.
Considering the wide range of influence this series had on me it makes perfect sense that the world of Sweet Valley would be the first to introduce me to the paranormal genre. In SVH #104, Love and Death in London, Jessica and Elizabeth have managed to secure not one but two (of course) internships at the London Journal and are headed to the UK for the summer. Shortly after they arrive the twins are warned about the upcoming full moon and are advised to stay out of danger by a mysterious bag lady. Already predetermined to be afraid of werewolves thanks to a strategic viewing of An American Werewolf in London at their going away party the night before Elizabeth freaks out. Cue a string of grisly murders that are at first attributed to a wild “dog” until evidence, compiled by Jessica and Elizabeth of course, begins to suggest that something more supernatural is to blame. This arc spans the next three books in the series, which incidentally can be bought used online for $2.08 in a bind-up that is called the Horror in London Collection. Some misguided romances and a few twin switches later Jessica and Elizabeth uncover the killer, which disappointingly turns out not to be a werewolf at all but an illegitimate son of the owner of the London Journal who was denied a piece of the family legacy. I encourage you to check out the full three book synopsis on Sharon’s Sweet Valley High Blog.
As ridiculous as this story arc sounds and as narrow as my early reading habits might have been I will never hesitate to slap down Sweet Valley High on a nametag that requests my favorite childhood book because I really believe that having been such a devoted fan of this series continues to positively influence my reading choices to this day.