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Sweet Valley's bland 'Night' life


This is the fifth and next-to-last offering of the 2008 revised version of the Sweet Valley High book series, and thank God.

I reviewed the 3rd book in this particular series.  And after this one, I'm officially done with it.

The flirty, fun-loving blond ball of id that is Jessica Wakefield is in search of a new kind of guy - a college undergrad named Scott Daniels.  The most handsome guy in his frat, Scott is definitely older than any guy Jessica has ever had.  But he also proves that he's a lot faster than Jessica on a beach trip, which is a major turn-off for her.  Stuck in a cabin for the night, Jessica can't sneak back into her house, so she asks her twin sister Elizabeth to cover for her.  As the mature, centered twin, Elizabeth feels obligated to hide Jessica's absence from their parents as well as Jessica's friends at school.  But this comes between Elizabeth and her boyfriend Todd, who thinks Jessica isn't worth it.  And when Elizabeth fails a test she took as her sister, Jessica gets angry with her as well.

Let's start with the title: it is completely misleading.  This book isn't about staying out all night; in fact, that part takes up only the first five chapters.  And although the synopsis on the back would lead a reader to believe that this is a Jessica story, in fact the majority of the plot is about Elizabeth covering up for her at school - and the odd fight that she and Todd get into.  In short, the plot's haphazard structure makes it hard to focus on what little characterization or theme that the story has.

For quite a while, I didn't think this book - or, I may say, really any of them - had much of a theme.  Creator Francine Pascal has said in the past that she conceived of Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield as the personifications of evil and good, respectively.  This is all the explanation we get as to why Jessica is a snotty manipulative brat and Elizabeth is a kind-hearted do-gooder.  Here, the ghostwriter attempts to give each character a little shade: Jessica has a moment of vulnerability when faced with a horny, aggressive Scott; and Elizabeth (as Jessica) persuades her mother to buy her "twin" a skirt.  But that's all we get - afterward, Jessica continues to be unsympathetic and Elizabeth a great bore.  The fight she and Todd have plays out more like two parents arguing over how to raise a child (only here, they break up over it with unwarranted drama).  What I'm trying to say is that Jessica is so unlikable - blithely unconcerned with others' feelings, self-centered, easily offended, taking others for granted - that Elizabeth's attempts to do right by her do not come across as loving or sisterly.  Elizabeth lets her sister walk all over her because that is the easiest choice - for the writer as well as the character.

Obviously I shouldn't expect decent literature from a book series that is largely superficial and lazy, writing-wise.  But it also fails to entertain, even as a trashy book.  In the current climate of YA books that include sex, drugs, and casual swearing - which are treated with varying degrees of seriousness - SVH comes across as quaint and twee.  In All Night Long, the two main outsiders - Scott and a rival contestant of a surfing contest (from the weak B-plot that isn't worth mentioning) - are both condemned, even though the rival does nothing worse than win 2nd place.  Here, high school isn't just high school - it's a beacon of purity.  Even Jessica, that boy-crazy flirt, is a virgin if only because all SVH students must remain as such.  Suddenly I understand why readers were craving the seediness of Gossip Girl.

Rating: 1.5 high school couples who say "I love you" after one month of dating out of 5.