In third grade, there was a competition. Two giant, laminated planets were pinned on the wall. Neon glue dotted their landscapes. Each dot represented a book.
We were all in the competition, the entire class. For every book we read, our name got pinned further and further around a planet. In case you’re wondering how I eventually won, and took home a planet, I have three simple words for you. SWEET VALLEY TWINS.
I don’t think you understand. It was first grade when it started. My obsession with the Wakefield twins. It grew overnight – within seconds of reading just one of the providentially borrowed library books. I loved everything. I loved how each book made a signature reference to their identical blond hair, blue eyes, how, depending on the book’s premise, one twin occasionally seemed prettier than the other. Elizabeth was bookish. Me too! But Jessica was popular. I wanted to be popular! Oh, it did NOT grow old.
Admittedly, I never read the original high school series. Two college ones were gifted to me for my birthday once, but the content confused/frightened/guilted me. And ultimately, what made me stop reading the twins series altogether was arriving at sixth grade and realizing that I couldn’t relate to the drama that wreaked havoc on their middle-school lives. There was no steady Todd Wilkins to be my best friend, no hot Bruce Patman to tease me and make me pretend-annoyed, no mean, popular Unicorn club— or, well, that might have existed… But these apprehensions failed to exist, yesterday. Yesterday, at the bookstore, only good things came to me upon finding a new book, Sweet Valley Confidential: Ten Years Later, perched on the paperback table!
You know those people who almost die, and then they don’t, and then they tell you that their life flashed before their eyes? So true. You should have seen the montage that strobe-lighted at me. The ballet class, Coppelia. The time Elizabeth saves Denny Jacobsen from drowning. Jessica’s accidental ugly cookie that ends up being amazing and on a t.v. show. The MAGIC CHRISTMAS when the twins get creepy porcelain dolls that end up being SUPER HOT princes from an alternate universe where you can imagine something in detail and it will appear!
The book premises thrilled me all the way to the check-out counter. Lila Fowler. Winston Egbert. Steven. Ned and Alice Wakefield, how were they these days? I wondered for real. I also wondered how fast I could read this new book. Could I read it in a bathroom sitting, like in the old days?
I remembered more:
The short of the long is that I am so sorry for momentarily cheating on you, Leo Tolstoy. And, I’m sorry to you, wallet, for spending on something so awful, so terrible, that I can’t even read past page 5. Obviously, I wasn’t expecting something brilliant. No. But I was looking forward to a nostalgic kitsch factor, you know? Some sensitive closure to an epic period of my life that was abruptly ended? Bad, bad call. Most abrupt was the transparent truth factor — that 11-year olds who grow up that quickly in sixth grade will inevitably become stuck that way throughout their adult life.
I don’t even feel a little smug about this. I feel ill. The new book’s back cover reveals that Francine Pascal lives in both New York City and France. She’s a theater lover, Tony voter. She is indisputably one of the most popular fiction writers of all time. Besides Stephanie Meyer, of course.
Thanks America. I’m officially feeling aged, world-weary. In serious need of hot chocolate, with marshmallows, and maybe a puppy to pet.
***next week: the christmas project revealed!