Everybody talks about books they liked as children. The subject of the books we read as teenagers is a bit more shrouded. I read a lot of crappy novels cleverly targeted to my teenage demographic back then, but unlike most who throw them away or let them molder in “the boxes”, I display my Sweet Valley High collection with pride.

Double Love
Around grade 6, the first Sweet Valley Highs were coming out (a new one each month!) and all the girls in my class were reading them and trading for the ones they didn’t have. It was a preview of how I thought high school would be. The easy acquisition of a popular, cute boyfriend instead of a tortured crush involving elaborate fantasies about how ‘he’ should realize how special I am, or parties where people dressed up and drank soda pop at Lila Fowler’s house rather than illegal bonfires in the park and beer in every backpack.

Forbidden Love
Of course, I didn’t read every single book but by the time the series hit the high double-digits they were starting to come up with all these new characters for Jessica and Elizabeth to interfere with. Like this one, where a couple of boring background characters get secretly engaged. The lavalieres start swingin’ when Jessica thinks its romantic and Elizabeth worries about these never-before-seen, never-heard-from-again characters impractical plan.
It’s an open secret that Francine Pascal didn’t actually write all those books. Unlike a lot of authors who use ghost writers and pseudonyms, she credited the writers of every book. In a recent interview in Bust Magazine, she revealed a bit of her creative process where she would create the characters and plots and then call in her writing/editing team to outline and draft all that kooky stuff going down at the Dairi Burger.

Caitlin - Loving Series
If she wrote them herself, Francine Pascal might never have found time to create Caitlin Ryan. Made up of three trilogies – Love, Promise and Forever – the Caitlin series is the excruciating story of a “raven-haired” rich girl who gets no love from her cold socialite granny who raises her and runs a mining company. The back story is that Caitlin’s mom got pregnant with her by a poor medical student who wasn’t up to Granny’s standards, and then died in childbirth. Flash forward 16 years and we meet Caitlin at the private boarding school where she gets to keep her horse, play tennis with her dorky roommate and lead a troupe of all the popular people in planning the prom. The new boy is a cowboy named Jed who has the nerve! the nerve! to resist her charms. She plots and schemes and gets the guy but then hopes he doesn’t put too many pieces together.

Caitlin - Promise Series
In the second trilogy, an older and dumber Caitlin goes to university, joins a sorority and dumps Jed after being suckered in by a handsome yet totally evil medical student. Our little rocket scientist doen’t know it, but this guy been plotting revenge against her since he was a wee child in the town where Grandmother Ryan owns the mine. His big plan is to sleep with Caitlin and then “totally destroy her” by dumping her after getting the goods. Oh noooo! A dastardly plot to steal her… virginity. There was a third trilogy which I never read that was something about Caitlin trying to make it as a journalist in the big city. Will her love with Jed survive?

I used to buy a lot of books from the Sweet Dreams and Sihlouette series, which were pretty much junior Harlequin romance material. Sweet Valley High grew out the Sweet Dreams line; this book, Dream Prom, features a preview for the series and an excerpt from Double Love.

Dream Prom

Dream Prom
is pretty standard dorky girl gets popular boyfriend type stuff. The extra drama comes from Molly’s absolute obsession with proms and formalwear vs her boyfriend getting such bad grades in English class that he might not graduate and therefore get banned from the prom. That horrid fate is averted by Molly agreeing to… tutor him.

The Girl Most Likely
The Sweet Dreams fish also spawned
The Girl Most Likely, a tragic tale of a cheerleader (the most popular girl in school) who dates a mechanic. Stacey is a completely annoying snot but I think we are actually meant to sympathize with her as she discovers how great it is to party in the trailer park with drag racers while “the rich snobs of Midvale High” turn against her. Will she pull it together to make Homecoming Queen and hang on to her position as Captain of the cheering squad? The most annoying part of this book, and there are many, is when she uses a butterfly paperweight she bought at the mall as a metaphor for her life. “Glamourous but going nowhere,” she says. STFU.

Silhouette Romance
Last but not least in my list of romantic favourites is
We Belong Together from Silhouette. The Sihouette Books had some cheesy cover design with their posed photos and scripty typefaces, but the writing tended to be more interesting. This one is an opposites attract kind of story where a rich girl (Cassie) likes a working-class guy(Eric), but things are complicated by her klutziness tending to screw things up wherever they meet and her overprotective parents trying to push her towards a guy they approve of, who she doesn’t especially like. Cassie is so determined to get Eric to notice her in a good way that it’s really kind of sweet. For a girl reader who, in a way, was trying to use these kinds of books as a substitute or guide to getting a boyfriend, its just more realistic to see the characters struggle a bit for what they want rather than just having it come. Think She’s All That vs Sixteen Candles – which girl would you rather be? The one who succeeds despite dorkiness or the one who has to get a sexy makeover to be appreciated?
No matter what their storylines, I’ve always blamed these books for misleading me about what being a teenager was going to be like. I was naive to begin with, though. I keep them around now because I’ve had them so long, sometimes I actually read them. Those fake, cheesy romances remind me of myself.

Coming soon – Part 2 of Lowbrow Lit for Teens: Horror!