C'est Cheese!

 

 

 

Serial Quillers

 

So yeah, things’ve been slow – slower than usual – here at dwanollah.com over the last couple months while me and The Husband-Type Man packed up two apartments (one on each coast) and one storage facility and moved it all to The Mansion… with all the moving company- and car shipping screw ups entailed within. So now our spacious living room is basically Mission Control Center, with half-unpacked boxes and heaps of crumpled newspaper strewn thither and yon. But our new home is slowly taking shape. We’ve got a kewl-rad love-seat for The Lounge that we discovered in a San Diego antique store (for only $160!). We’ve got all our china unpacked and stunningly organized– in the Butler’s Pantry. We’ve got our respective office spaces to work in. And I have turned the Maid’s Room into Dwanollah’s Homage to her Inner Child. Along with the Barbies and the old dresses from various high school formals and an old chenille bedspread from Gramma’s house, the Playroom has become the new home to The Most Pathetic Collection Ever: my collection of YA paperbacks, circa the 1980s.

As I said to The Husband-Type Man while I filled shelves (making sure authors were together and all the serieses were in numerical order), how lame am I that I even HAVE such a hobby, much less brag about it? It started because I, a Cancer with Virgo rising, cannot bear to part with anything, and have always been a voracious reader. So I had slowly filled a box with all the Sweet Valley High and Sweet Dreams books that I read and re-read and re-read some more in Jr. Hi on into high school. An increasingly shameful habit. While my friends were graduating to Danielle Steele or Stephen King (or gave up reading altogether because it was "lame" and "boring")… and even while I was getting into V.C. Andrews and Clan of the Cave Bear, I still had to find out what happened next with the Wakefield twins. It didn’t matter that I hated the books and hated Elizabeth and Jessica (and, in fact, began writing a novel myself around the time I read SVH 8 or 9 and lamented to my diary that "even I can write more realistic stories than that!"); I still spent that $1.95 every month. Yeah. You want pathetic? I have close to 150 Sweet Valley High first editions, most read to rags, purchased the month of their releases… which includes not just the series itself, but all of the So-and-So’s Story and the special summer and Christmas editions (even though I was incensed with the fact that there were, like, eight summer vacations during Elizabeth and Jessica’s junior year of high school). I’ve come to believe that Sweet Valley High, and Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield in particular, are responsible for at least 75% of the eating disorders and image problems in teenage girls ever since 1982. What insecure, acne-spotted, awkward 13-year-old needs to read about "the most adorable, the most dazzling sixteen-year-old girls imaginable" with "the same shoulder-length, sun-streaked blond hair, the same sparkling blue-green eyes, the same perfect skin" and "both generously blessed with spectacular, all-American good looks" blahblahblah thanksaLOTcakes (as per SVH 1, chapter 1. Old Francine didn't believe in subtlety, did she?)… girls who effortlessly land handsome boyfriends and have huge wardrobes and live in a beautiful house with beautiful parents and are popular and successful at school and go to fun parties and dances and school events, along with the occasional gig as mystery-solvers or rescuers? With every book, I got more and more pissed. But I read on.

And I didn’t stop at Sweet Valley High. No. I read the Avon YA romances and the Flare YA romances and the Signet YA romances… heck, if it had a picture of a pretty, clear-skinned girl on the cover, I probably read it. And probably formed a lot of my expectations of self and success because of it (i.e. having a boyfriend who loves you is important. So is being a cheerleader and/or involved in school. And how look tells others how you feel about yourself; if you have plain clothes or unstylish hair or don’t care about make-up, well, that means you don’t care about yourself). Around the time I got my own boyfriend and was busy with cheerleading and ASB and journalism, I gave up most of the paperback romances, and eventually packed most everything up in a box, lest anyone find out I’d read such things and think I was a total dork. But every so often, out of sheer boredom, I’d end up picking up a couple more paperbacks at the local Waldenbooks, reading YA Poo during one of my marathon bathtub soaks.

Then, around ten years ago, I discovered used bookstores with a vengeance. Look, I can get a copy of that Judith Krantz book for a dollar! And wait, what’s this…? Ohmigawd, they have that Sweet Dreams book that I read three times from the library but never bought myself…. What the heck?

Things snowballed in 1992 when I started working for the Big and gNarly Bookstore Chain. In the Children’s section. A few of the series I’d read had gone out of print, but Sweet Valley was still going strong. And there’s this new series of books on a ballet dancer. And these, based on Beverly Hills, 90210. And-

So my collection amassed, thanks to stripped-cover inventories. We were allowed to help ourselves to the stripped paperbacks, and I remember one memorable day when I brought home two boxes full of things for me and my roommate to giggle over. Do you have any idea how many 150-pg mass market paperbacks you can fit into two boxes?

My YA Book Habit got even worse when I hit upon the idea of giving the occasional paperback as joke gifts. Pretty soon, I had a separate stash of things for use in gift bags. (I had three copies of Pretty in Pink at one time. Another coup was the book Smart Girl, whose main character was Elizabeth Ellen. I gave it to my friend e.Beth – that is, Ellen Elizabeth. A couple of my Duranie friends received copies of the Class of ’88 series because the football jock’s name was, no lie, Nick Rhodes.)

But I thought it was all pretty much under control until we took everything out of storage and, to my chagrin, I discovered that I have well over a thousand YA paperbacks! Good God!

Make of it what you will, I’ve turned my shameful secret into a point of pride… as well as a form of foof (naturally). And I confess, I’ll still read ‘em in the bathtub, if only to giggle over how much has changed in 15 years… even though my reading habits ain’t one of those things.

Ready for a trip down memory lane? Here’re some of the high points in my paperback YA series collection.

Seniors: This series came out in 1984, and were the first YA books I read that mentioned Sex. (Yeah, there was Norma Klein and Forever, but those were more sophisticated, less YA Formula Fiction.) The seniors of the series were Kit, who was the sexy girl with the heart of gold, Alex, the athletic tomboy, Elaine, the brain, and Lori, the shy, model-beautiful blond. There was a lot of High School Typicality, of course (I’ll forever be disappointed that high school, darn it, wasn’t all cool themed dances and variety shows and car washes, with everyone all active and involved, like how it was portrayed in these and other YA books!)… but the Seniors series actually had some dimly positive aspects to it. The main characters (while falling too easily into "type") had varied interests, not just the usual High School Girl stuff… and, unusual for the 1980s, not one was a cheerleader: Alex was on the diving team and liked to work on her car, Elaine was into computers, Kit was a dancer, Ginger a gourmet baker and set-designer for the drama club, Stephanie a tennis player… even Lori, the most traditionally Typical Girlie Girlie Girl, liked drawing and gardening. Of course, there was a lot of YA Garbage, too… like when Elaine the Brain did the typical trade-the-glasses-for-contacts/get a new haircut/start wearing makeup and cute clothes move to turn into a beauty. And the emphasis was, of course, the whole Boyfriend/Girlfriend drama. I don’t remember these books being popular when I was in Jr. Hi. (in high school, no one would admit to reading this stuff anyway), but I could tell the series started to go south once the Original Seniors graduated and gave way to the New Seniors. The All-Time Low was the Special Edition in which Kit plans to marry her high school boyfriend because they can’t bear to be separated any longer. It ends with the overdone and unrealistic called-off-at-the-alter cliché ("Do you take this man?" "No.") dealie. Puhleeeeze….

Cheerleaders. Rather than being written by or published under one author, Cheerleaders books were written by different authors, some of whom (Caroline B. Cooney, Christopher Pike) went on to do other YA things. That lead to a lot of inconsistency in characters and tone, something that bugged me to no end, even at age 14. In one book, Nancy is insecure and bites her nails down to nubs, in another, she’s a cool, confident cookie whose flawless fingernails indicate her seeming superiority [enough alliteration for you? My teenaged self thought alliteration was really cool]. I was also annoyed that Mary Ellen, the (of course) beautiful blond model-to-be captain of the cheerleaders could have all these boyfriends and be obsessed with Hometown Boy Patrick and make out with him at parties even if she was going with with someone else, yet no one labeled her a slut. The cheers performed by said Cheerleaders were also, like, circa Filmore Junior High 1973. I know. I was a cheerleader, and made it a point to steal cheers from other schools and from those ESPN things. I knew that cheers at the time consisted of very crisp, stylized, almost glottal chants like "G…O… let me… hear you… say GO!" Not, say sing-song rhymes like:

We’ve got the fever, we’ve got the beat

And we’re gonna give you a victory treat!

Beat, treat, treat, beat

We’re gonna give you a victory treat!

Banana splits! [upon which everyone does splits]

 

Or [sic all the punctuation and italics, btw]:

Hamburgers, pickles, French fries, and shakes

Tarenton has got what it takes.

Hotdogs, mustard, roll, and Coke

The opposite team is just a joke.

Like other serieses, the Old Cheerleaders gave way to New Cheerleaders, although many of the Old Cheerleaders were still around. Take, for instance, the book Saying Yes (#30). For the previous 29 books, we’d been beat over the head with Mary Ellen’s dream to go to New York and be a model. Her ambition kept her from dating her Hometown Boy Patrick, because Patrick was a garbage man with no desires to get out of Dodge, but to marry and settle down right after high school. So upon graduation, Mary Ellen leaves for New York to chase her dreams and fulfill her multitudinous ambitions. A mere couple books later, and she’s flying home, and apparently on the flight, has fallen madly in love with former fellow cheerleader and conveniently rich Pres (coincidentally on the very same plane, in the very next seat). So they get married. And Mary Ellen decides that she’ll really be happier working in a day care center and going to community college instead of being a model, because those three months in NY were, like, sooooo hard and she was sooooo lonely. Good God.

Caitlin: Brought to you by Francine Pascal, creator of Sweet Valley High! And you thought the Wakefield twins lived a charmed life…? Caitlin was not only more beautiful than any SVH student, she was also RICH! Well, make that a "poor little rich girl," because Caitlin didn’t feel like her guardian grandmother loved her, and so Caitlin was Devious and Bad and Mean and Scheming. Of course, that changed by the end of Book One because she fell in love with Jed, a cowboy from out west. The rest of the three-trilogy 9-book series was devoted to Caitlin and Jed, first in high school, then in college, then out on their own, breaking up and getting back together countless times. With every life change, they’d drift apart, break up, then somehow find their way back together again, because they really LOVED each other! Ah ha! So THIS is where 90210 got it? Seriously… this was major Soulmate Propaganda years before Dylan and Kelly (or Kelly and Brandon or Dylan and Brenda or Donna and David or-). Despite their jealously-laden, idiotic rifts (in which I, 15, would be thinking to myself "Why doesn’t she just ask him about it if it’s bothering her? Why doesn’t he say something if it’s such an issue?"), never doubt that Caitlin and Jed were MEANT to be together! Like after Jed saves Caitlin’s life (again) by showing up just in the nick of time to pull her from a burning stable:

"You know, it’s scary to think about how close I came to not making it down here last Saturday night. I had missed those flights, and I was just about to walk out of the terminal and grab a cab back to my apartment, when I thought I heard you calling me. That’s when I turned back." He shook his head. "I don’t know. I never believed in that sort of thing, but now I think I do. It’s like people who love each other have some kind of—telepathy."

Caitlin nodded. …"And I think maybe I was trying to send a message to you saying how much you meant to me."

He held her even closer. "And I promise I will always be there for you. I’ll never let anything hurt you ever again. I promise."

Yuck. Of course that promise, as promises before, means diddly squat, because by the next book, Jed dumps Caitlin and files for an annulment because he’s crippled in an accident.

Soulmate Propaganda wasn’t the only problem, though. All the books were full of details about, say, the old Virginia manor house and the horses and the Chippendale chairs and Ainsley china and Chanel suits and sports cars and private schools and butlers and maids and all that other Über-1980s money conscious stuff. But they really didn’t tell you anything but the cursory elements of the main characters and plots. There were inconsistencies everywhere… like the fact that Caitlin’s father supposedly never knew about her existence, yet lived about an hour away. Um, if Caitlin came from such a socially prominent family and/or was related to such a prominent businesswoman (her grandmother), you’d think he’d’ve seen newspaper photos or something SOMEWHERE. Not to mention you’d think the guy would’ve kept tabs on the family of the woman he supposedly loved so much. [I analyzed this shit when I was 14. What a loser.] I hated that, after spending 8 of the series’ 9 books emphasizing how much Caitlin didn’t want to take over the family business, BOOM, she does just that, without much thought… and is never resentful about it. It also bugged me that Caitlin and Jed supposedly were together for so many years – even living in their own apartments in New York – yet there was no mention of sex. In fact, it’s implied that Caitlin’s a virgin on her wedding night… because six weeks later, she’s pregnant… and knows it because "she counted the days in her mind. Yes, yes, it could be true. It had been just over six weeks since their wedding—and their wedding night." The series ends, predictably, with Jed and Caitlin, recovered from their latest crisis and split, living their perfect lives in their perfect mansion with their perfect new baby and their perfect friends. Perfectly dreck.

Class of __: Well, okay, this series only managed Class of ’88 and Class of ’89, but still…. The ’88 series of four books (aptly enough, titled Freshman, Sophomore, Junior and Senior) was released to coincide with the graduation of the actual Class of ’88… my class. So, kind of souvenir-like, I bought all four with one of the Waldenbooks gift certificates I’d received as graduation gifts. And honest, the name of the handsome, athletic, buff, golden-haired football hero was named Nick Rhodes. Nick Rhodes?! Whose idea of a joke was that? Anyway, the ’88 series featured five friends, Nick, Meg, Celia, Sean and Allie, through high school. Chapter One, Book One, sees them all in their old childhood tree house for the last time. "I’ll bet anything they’ll come here after they graduate in Book Four," I thought, and, der, I was right, little Recognizor of Clichés that I was even then. The books contain some shaky references to contemporary pop culture (for instance, Sean has a "Bronsky Beat" [sic] album). The ’89 series, of which I was less fond (and only last month found a used copy of the Junior book to complete the series), had weaker characters (Mickey, Bets, Page and Laurel) and less-developed plots, IMHO.

Satin Slippers and Silver Skates: Two different series, but fundamentally the same. You want fame? Well fame costs. And right here is where you start- Okay, so you already know. Both of these series follow girls living away from home and training at schools for their respective fields. There’re plenty of formula features: big shows, Sleeping Beauty, brushes with fame, choosing between a boy and school, injuries…. I have yet to find either a fiction book or a movie (Cutting Edge, I’m looking at you… Center Stage, well, we’ll see when you come out on video….) that deals satisfactorily and realistically with these subjects. But even so, you can bet I’m scouring my used book sources for Satin Slippers #12, the Super Edition that I’m missing….

Blossom Valley High: What I remember most about this series was the advertisements in all the ’Teen and Seventeen magazines with a full head shot of a hunky, dark-haired boy, captioned MEET CRAIG. Craig, it turned out, was Blossom Valley’s basketball star and residential heartthrob. The first Blossom Valley book was all about Janine, a new girl who meets Craig and falls in Love At First Sight. Folks, Sweet Valley High was fine literature compared to this stuff. The author, Elaine Harper, was a horrible writer… so horrible that 9th-grade-me actually used to re-write dialogue and bits from these books because what she wrote was so stilted and unlike how any person, much less teen, would talk and behave! BHV books read like manuals of how NOT to write. For example, a scene from the local ice cream shop:

…In the present scene, [Janine] had the role of a grubby drudge waiting on glittering, carefree social butterflies—his crowd.

"There are a lot of people waiting." Her voice became brittle as she saw Stephanie Quayle’s pink-painted fingers taking a strawberry sundae from Mike. Mike glanced impatiently at her. She was not doing her share of the work.

"Sorry." Craig looked up at the flavor board. "German chocolate cake—two scoops—with marshmallow sauce. Are you always going to stay made at me?"

"Do you want nuts?" Janine met his eyes and felt a surge of love for him. The counter before her, embedded with its barrels of ice cream, was a formidable barrier…. She felt his eyes boring into her back as she turned to squirt the marshmallow syrup onto the German chocolate cake ice cream, and she made an extra big puff of whipped cream and scattered extra nuts on top and then a cherry…. Janine gave it to him with trembling hands. His big hand touched her fingers as he took it from her, and his eyes held hers in their grip. She knew their was enough raw emotion showing in her face, just as their was hurt and misgiving in his, a legacy of their last five minutes at the Wiechers’ house.

"Come on, Matthews, bug off the help," a loud, jeering voice interrupted.

…[Craig’s] eyes clung to Janine’s for a moment, then ripped away from her as his crowd swept him out the door, licking cones and spooning up sundaes.

I mean, Malt Shop Melodrama, anyone?

It only got worse. By the next book, which featured Janine’s younger sister Polly, Janine and Craig were getting married during spring break from college. But more on that later. First, this gem, titled The Mystery Kiss, is about how Polly has some guy grab her in a Halloween haunted house, kiss her, and tell her he loves her. Instead of ramming her knee where it’d hurt the most, Polly instead spends the next six months dreaming about her Mystery Man and how much he must love her. She shares a heart-to-heart with big sis Janine, and wants to know if Craig told Janine he loved her the first time he kissed her.

"No." Janine’s eyes had a faraway look. "It was a long time after."

So then in Polly’s case, this love was a lot more urgent. The guy, who had already told her he loved her, might even be wanting her to get married when she was, like, seventeen. Who was he, anyway?

Well then.

So Janine and Craig get married. By the book after that (which featured some other BVHers), Janine – still in college – was pregnant. Hot on the heels of that book was one titled, fancy this, Janine, which, according to the teaser, was all about Janine and Craig after they got married. Which is why the book is called Janine instead of Janine and Craig…? Okay. Anyway, I finally found a copy of this book a few years back, and was pleased to see that Elaine Harper didn’t loose any of that special touch when she returned to Janine and Craig as main characters. Why, this one interlude exhibits a wealth of problems:

"Don’t push him! Watch his head!" Janine sat down on the sofa and tried to take Timmy away from Craig.

"He’s okay! What are you trying to do, make a wimp out of him? This is a guy who likes to be challenged, aren’t you, Timmy! What does Mama think you are, a pantywaist?"

"Craig! You’re forgetting that this is a month-old infant!" Janine rankled at Craig’s calling her "Mama." It was getting to be a habit with him. Was that how he thought of her now, as Timmy’s mother, and no longer as his wife and lover? She remembered how it had been in Berkeley. She would no sooner come in the door of their apartment after a class than she would be in Craig’s arms, and they would be absorbed in the magic of each other.

But what’s grodier than a guy who calls his kid a "pantywaist"…? Yeah, I know Ms. Harper prolly meant our hero Craig to seem suave and super-hip-friendly, but this next bit… well…

Craig gave Lisa [the 15-year-old daughter of their landlord] his mischievous, teasing look. "A pretty girl like you, I’ll bet you’d be going out with your boyfriends every single night, and you’d never have time for baby-sitting."

Lisa squirmed self-consciously in her chair, and a pleased blush appeared on her cheeks. "There aren’t that many guys who. . ."

"Come on!" Craig continued in his joking way. "I’ll bet you have to beat the guys off with a stick."

"Craig, you’re embarrassing Lisa." Janine turned to the girl. "He loves to tease. Don’t pay any attention to him"

… I mean, it smacks of skeevy potential statutory rapist to me.

The fun with Janine and Craig didn’t end at Janine though…. Along came Homecoming, where the happy couple sets up their best friends and convinces them to get married… because everything has to match all nice and neatly like that, huh?

But if there were BVH books after that with Janine and Craig, I ain’t found ‘em yet.

Girl Friends: Technically, this series doesn’t follow my usual YA formula. I didn’t read it in Jr. Hi. or high school. It came out in 1993, while I was working at the bookstore, as one of several series under a new imprint called Z Fave. While the lineup of characters was a little too PC (Janis, blond peace-loving activist, Cassandra, rich African-American ballerina, Natalie, Cassandra’s cousin from South Central LA, Stephanie, poor Chinese-American writer with a gay father, and Maria, rich Latina cheerleader), I was impressed with the first three books... impressed enough to read the rest as they came out. The series dealt with topics like date rape, hate crimes, drugs, guns in schools, bulimia, homosexuality, teen sexuality, and just general growing-up issues… sometimes a little too earnestly and easily (Cassandra’s bulimia, for example, begins, reaches crisis and is resolved in only a couple books), but still worlds away from Sweet Valley, Blossom Valley, Cheerleader Valley and all them others. The characters were strong, unique and interesting; I especially enjoyed some of the "supporting characters," like Simon, the Oprah-loving Sensitive New Age Jewish Guy who, despite that, was still too self-absorbed to have a decent boyfriend-girlfriend relationship, and Cleo, the childhood friend of Maria’s who’d had a near-death experience and afterwards could read auras. What I especially liked about the Girl Friends series (unlike the aforementioned Valleys, where beauty is determined by being blonde, blue-eyed and "a perfect size six") was that there was no question that Natalie, full-figured and sometimes sloppy, was as hot, sexy and attractive as, say, "Brick House" Maria. In fact, every one of the Girls were hot, sexy and attractive, whether skinny or busty, dressed in a second-hand granny dress or a skin-tight cat suit, blonde or dark or red-haired. But especially, it was never all about being hot, sexy and attractive; the Girl Friends were primarily focused on personal growth. Which means a lot of stuff happened.

By book 10, things had reached a fever pitch. Cassandra’s boyfriend and her boyfriend’s brother had just been shot by stray gang bullets and one was dead… but which one? Cleo and Maria’s brother Jesse (lead singer of the local band "Corrupting Cleo"... which I actually think is a pretty danged groovy band name) might’ve finally gotten together. Natalie was confronting the father who’d abandoned her. Maria was about to have sex for the first time- or was she?

We’ll never know. Z Fave folded, and there was never another Girl Friends book to come out. For years, I’ve wondered what might’ve happened. Why, I even tracked down the author and wrote her, asking what direction she was headed with the series! But alas, no answer. I suppose I’ll have to content myself with my old trick, and write an ending myself….

And hey, if y’all’re lucky, maybe my next Blather’ll deal with all of the single-volume YA Poo in my collection…! What fun!

 

What did you read when you were a young adult? Do you remember any of these serieses?

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