This year seems to be the year to revisit YA series of the past and find out what our favourite characters are up to ten years later. I recently read Sweet Valley Confidential and just finished Sisterhood Everlasting, and I have to say I did not enjoy them equally. The following reviews contain major spoilers, so if you haven’t read either of these books, you may want to stop reading this post now.
As much as finding out what happened to our favourite YA characters as adults may seem like a cool idea, sometimes, it’s better not to know. That’s certainly how I felt after reading Francine Pascal’s Sweet Valley Confidential. Twins Elizabeth and Jessica Wakefield are living on opposite sides of the country, Liz in New York struggling to find a writing gig and Jessica in Sweet Valley working at a design firm (I think). The two sisters are no longer speaking. What could have torn apart their sisterly bond, you ask? Well apparently, Elizabeth found out her fiancé Todd Wilkins cheated on her…with her twin! Oi. Jess and Todd are now living together in Sweet Valley and planning their wedding. Jessica tries to reconcile with her twin, but Liz is too hurt and angry to speak to her.
The story of how things all went wrong is told in flashbacks and accounts for much of the book, which turns out to be a rather boring way of telling the story. There wasn’t nearly as much drama as I was expecting. The ending is a huge disservice to fans, too. Yes, Liz and Jess make up, but the romantic story lines are completely unsatisfying, not to mention implausible. I just can’t buy Todd and Jessica as a couple. There is nothing in the book to convince me they truly love each other and belong together. The relationship seems manufactured for the sake of creating a plot for this completely unnecessary novel. To add insult to injury, Elizabeth ends up falling for unlikely BFF Bruce Patman, who’s been crushing on her for years. Again, the characters’ motivations are utterly unconvincing. It’s true that people change over time and it’s certainly possible Bruce grew up in the past ten years, but we only get a brief glimpse into his character and the events that caused him to change his ways. The secondary characters don’t fare much better. Lila Fowler and Ken Matthews are on the brink of divorce, while Steven Wakefield is suddenly having a homosexual affair with Aaron Dallas. He gets outed to long-suffering wife Cara by trouble-making Jessica. Poor Winston Egbert has it the worst though – he’s turned into an arrogant jerk no one really likes, and when he dies after falling off his balcony he gets little sympathy. The writing is even more cringe-worthy than I remember it being in the Sweet Valley High books, especially the Jessica bits. Jessica at 27 sounds like vapid teenager, and her dialogue and inner voice get really grating after a while. If I could go back in time and not read this book, I would. That’s how bad it was.
On a lighter note, I had a much more positive experience with Sisterhood Everlasting by Ann Brashares. I was a bit older when I read the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants books, so they don’t feel as much like part of my childhood as Sweet Valley High does. At first, I didn’t care for this book, either. The girls are now 29 and living separate lives, Carmen an actress in New York, Lena and art instructor in Providence, Bridget temping in San Francisco, and Tibby off in Australia doing who knows what with boyfriend Brain, who is launching a software company. Since Tibby moved across the world, she’s been mysteriously out of touch, until she sends the other girls plane tickets to Greece for a surprise reunion. Sadly, the girls never see Tibby alive. She drowns before they arrive. At first, her death seems accidental, but it turns out she has left letters behind for each girl, as if she was planning her death. The girls fear the worst – that Tibby meant to die, and that they all failed her by not being there for her. They also feel abandoned and confused and begin to question whether the sisterhood they shared ever meant anything.
At first I was just as confused as Carmen, Lena, and Bridget. I was upset over Tibby’s death, especially since we don’t get to see her point of view at all. I couldn’t imagine Tibby taking her own life and was hoping her drowning really was an accident and there was something else going on, like she was terminally ill with cancer. It turns out I was partly right. Tibby was dying of Huntington’s disease and had brought her friends to Greece to say goodbye. As upsetting as it was to say goodbye to a beloved character, I found Tibby’s letters helped the three remaining sisters find their way back to each other and figure out what is important in life. For Carmen, it was dumping her jerk of a fiancé and remembering to be proud of her Puerto Rican heritage. For Lena, it was learning how to take risks, and finally finding love with Kostos. For Bridget, it meant figuring out what to do with her life rather than spend it ambling restlessly from one place to the next. Although I found the pacing rather slow in parts, overall I was satisfied with the ending. I thought Sisterhood Everlasting remained true to the spirit of the original Traveling Pants books and I admit to fighting tears a few times. I also liked the resolution to the Lena/Kostos romantic plot, which was a long time coming. Overall, a touching and enjoyable read.