YA Book Club: Francine Pascal’s Sweet Valley High #1: ‘Double Love’
F*ck Jessica Wakefield. F*ck her forever. She is a monster and has no redeemable qualities and I cannot believe that she was a teen heroine of yesteryear. Jessica Wakefield is 100 percent the type of white blonde lady to call the cops on anyone who doesn’t look like her, if they dared exist in the same public space as her, and then would cry and make herself the victim when the (hopefully) inevitable backlash came on to her.
Let me backtrack. Today we’re covering Sweet Valley High #1: ‘Double Love’ where it all began for the Wakefield twins, Elizabeth and Jessica. Beautiful, blonde, and semi-wealthy, the twins live in the idyllic LA-adjacent suburb of Sweet Valley High, where everything is shiny and beautiful and implied to be heavily homogenous. As I’m sure you remember, this series was massive in the ’80s and ’90s but one I wasn’t that into because it wasn’t about horny teens with raspy voices getting murdered or committing murders. Nor was it about babysitting. So basically the SVH books were ones I only picked up when the garage sale or bookstore had nothing else going on. I can see why now.
The characters in these books are monsters. Irredeemable monsters. I found myself shouting out loud throughout the course of reading it: “F*ck you, Jessica Wakefield, you are the WORST.”
Friends, she is absolutely the worst, and I’m sure you’ll agree once you jog your memory on the finer plot elements of Double Love.
Picture this: Beautiful, blonde identical twins Jessica and Elizabeth are getting ready for school one morning. Jessica is clearly fishing for compliments because she keeps putting herself down, basically for the sole aim of wearing the new clothes Elizabeth bought, before Elizabeth could wear them. It works, but wait, Jessica isn’t done being awful yet. See, dreamy Todd Wilkins has called the family phone line (remember when we had those?) looking for Elizabeth, but Jessica answers and refuses to let Liz come to the phone, insisting on flirting with Todd herself. It’s only like 5 pages into the book so far, and we already know all we need to know about the type of person Jess is. She’s the worst.
Anyway, this is all a big send up to the big school social event. The high school sorority is announcing who was allowed into their midst, at a school assembly that morning, so of course Jessica has to look good. What high school has a sorority?!! Certainly not mine.
There’re some character introduction points that we’re to learn about the difference between Elizabeth and Jessica. Elizabeth secretly wants to be a writer, has a massive crush on Todd, and is generally the more level-headed of the two. Elizabeth’s best friend is Enid, whom Jessica hates on principle, but Enid is kind of a drip who does that annoying thing some people do by telling you they have big news, then insisting that they have to tell you in person the next day to draw out the attention on them, because they don’t have a lot going on otherwise. Don’t be like Enid.
Then we have Jessica, who is a monster. She’s the worst type of monster because she’s selfish and just awful, only her motivations are so mundane it’s not enough to keep me engaged. I love monsters, but only when they know they’re being monsters and are OK with that and are possibly pushing people down the stairs, to their death, like my girl Vera in “My Sweet Audrina.” Jessica is just a selfish a-hole who thinks treating people like sh*t is justified because it gets her what she wants in the end, only she’s so vapid that what she wants is just small potatoes, dumb s*it. Jessica is co-captain of the cheerleading squad because this book was written in 1983, and that’s shorthand for “popular” back then.
Anyway, of course Jessica and Elizabeth (and surprisingly Enid) are invited to join the sorority, but you don’t need to worry about that plot point because it’s basically not brought up again in the book. Oh well!
So both Jessica and Elizabeth like Todd. Todd clearly likes Elizabeth better, but Jessica is a monster, so she does everything in her power to thwart Elizabeth and get Todd for herself. A note on Elizabeth: She may not be a monster like Jessica, but she is a f*cking enabler. Jessica is never held accountable for her actions, and Elizabeth allows herself to get knowingly manipulated by Jessica all the time. If this were an RL Stine book, one of the twins would get murdered and then the other would have to solve the crime. If this were a Pike book, they’d have some freaky psychic connection that would be related somehow to space lizards and God. But friends, this is a Francine Pascal book, so this dynamic is treated as healthy and normal. Ugh.
Obviously, Jessica wins initially on Todd, because Elizabeth has no backbone—but we need to take a digression to the other Wakefields, because the entire family is mired in drama in Double Love.
First we have their older brother Steve, who is in college but still comes home every weekend (normal college freshman stuff…not) who treats his sister Elizabeth like the help. Seriously, we’re introduced to him by having him demand Elizabeth make him a sandwich, and she does(!!!!) Anyway, there’s a whole subplot about Steve and why he’s home so much. Jessica, of course, spreads a rumor that he’s hanging out with a loose woman (Betsy) who is “fast” (we know what that means) and does drugs—and whose father is the town drunk. I, for one, am shocked that a college-age dude may want to mess with a girl who puts out and likes recreational substances. Of course, this is Sweet Valley, so naturally Steve’s rumored affiliation is cause for scandal among the Wakefield twins and they’re worried about what it will do to their family’s reputation. Eventually, it turns out that Steve is in love with Betsy’s sister, Tricia, who is not a fun, trashy, loose lady, and who breaks up with him because he refuses to be seen in public with her because her family is trashy. (Side note: it’s also revealed that Tricia’s mom died when she was young, due to leukemia, but no one gives her any sympathy, or the rest of her family’s substance abuse problems any empathy, because it seems like Sweet Valley is exclusively populated with rich white a*sholes who can think only of themselves and appearances.) Anyway this all gets resolved when Steve, after a heart to heart with his parents, decides to tell Tricia he loves her in spite of her trashy family, and would she go get clams and a milkshake with him in public? Clams and a milkshake. He seriously said that.
Speaking of the Wakefield parents. Ned Wakefield is probably, maybe catting around on his wife with the scandalously divorced Marianna West, but that doesn’t get resolved in this book, and honestly, I don’t remember if it ever does. I vaguely recall at some point, Ned deciding he doesn’t want to run away with Marianna and nobly returns to his family. I could also be mistaking that with a very similar plotline from Beverly Hills 90210.
The crux of this book is Jessica being a monster to Elizabeth, and Elizabeth allowing that because she can’t stay mad at her sister. This is a study in teenage Stockholm Syndrome, but I’m pretty sure that’s unintentional.
Jessica goes on a date with a bad boy that ends with him getting trashed at a dive bar, starting a fight, and having the cops come. Since Jessica is a blonde white teenager, she’s given a ride home by the cops and not arrested for being underage in a bar. The scandal is when she gets out of the cop car, someone sees her and believes it to be Elizabeth. So word gets around school, and Jessica tells no one because she’s worried it would get her kicked off the cheerleading squad (this motivation is only revealed at the end of the book, and in retrospect, it could have been a lie designed to get her out of trouble with Liz.) When she finally admits everything at the end of the book, she says to her sister that Liz would have agreed to take the fall for the whole thing anyway, so what was the big deal?!
Jessica isn’t done being the worst, yet, not by a long shot. She eventually cons Ned into asking her to the big dance, only he has eyes for Elizabeth the entire time. So naturally, when he doesn’t kiss her properly goodnight, she decides to tell her sister that Todd refused to take no for an answer and she barely got away from him. Jessica Wakefield, you are a massive, steaming pile of s*it.
That whole misunderstanding doesn’t get resolved until the drunk dude from earlier drunkenly kidnaps the Wakefield twins in their own car and resolves to drive them back to the dive bar to have some fun. Todd, of course, sees this go down and follows the drunk guy and the twins, in his own car, and saves the day. Jessica, of course, tries to kiss him, but Elizabeth snaps out of the Patty Hearst-esque thrall she has for her abusive twin for a nanosecond, and gets to Todd first.
The book ends with Elizabeth machinating Jessica getting thrown into the school pool as a payback for the mental torture she inflicted on Liz for the entirety of the book, played for a lark, because that definitely makes up for the f*cking shenanigans Jess pulled.
There’s also a whole subplot about the football field being turned into a factory, or an English style garden (same thing, really) and ultimately stays a football field but I’m exhausted so we’re going to wrap this up, because Jessica Wakefield makes me want to take a bath in bleach.
I’m kind of speechless here to be honest. Since SVH was never my go-to, my vague impression of the series was that they were boring (read: no murders.) I did not pick up on the fact that Sweet Valley is a mythical place populated entirely with ’80s movie villains who want to tear down youth rec centers and put up parking lots.
This was a really eye-opening experience for me, and I feel like I need to lie down for a second to process just how terrible these characters are—Jessica Wakefield, in particular, has aged horribly over the past 36 years. Also, we can all agree on this—Jessica Wakefield would have gleefully voted for Trump, yes?
Anyway, that’s enough about the Wakefield twins for now. Next week we return to my wheelhouse with one of my favorite Fear Streets: “The Prom Queen.”
Header Image Source: Bantam Books