I never even read a single book in the Sweet Valley High series and I found this longform/longread article extremely interesting. (Don’t get me wrong; I read plenty of juvenile fiction written for girls when I was a kid, like the Ramona Quimby books, which were awesome.) Written by Amy Boesky, author and scholar of 17th-century English literature for the Kenyon Review, it is something of a confession about her years ghostwriting dozens of Sweet Valley High books while at the same time researching early modern utopias for her PhD dissertation, published at Oxford University.
The contrast is obviously striking, researching Thomas More in the libraries of the oldest university in the English-speaking world while at the same time writing in a matter of just days entire books that deal with the vapid lives of a pair of California teenage twins Elizabeth and Jessica and the world they have to deal with, one where “people fit in to Sweet Valley and its ethos, or the narrative expelled them.” Surprisingly, the Sweet Valley ideal is, at its core, utopian, at least as Plato saw it. In his Republic, the philosopher envisioned a utopia of strict class distinctions composed of classes denoted by the graduated values of gold, silver, bronze and iron. Anyone could rise to another class through merit, however, or, in Sweet Valley, by fitting in with the Wakefield girls’ universe.
What struck me the most about Boesky’s short memoir is that it seemed to be a confession, like that of an addict who still imagines how her favorite drug tasted. It makes for interesting reading.