Sweet Valley High- A Necessary Re-release?

In order to get the word out about the re-release of the Sweet Valley High series, Random House has been circulating a memo among journalists (*source- Gawker). Along with publicizing the “new” series, the memo highlights a few of the editorial changes made by the publisher to ensure the books will be accepted by savvy teens in the new millenium. In 1983, the twins drove a red Fiat- in 2008 it’s a red Jeep. In 1983, Elizabeth was an editor at the school newspaper. In 2008, she is an editor for the school newspaper, which is a website, and also runs an anonymous blog. These updates make sense and I understand why the editors implemented them. However, I was infuriated and disappointed by the first change noted in the memo: in 1983 the twins wore a “perfect size 6”. Today, it’s a “perfect size 4”. First of all, I have a problem with any size being deemed perfect. Body image issues, much? Even if they were changing the size to an 8, it would still be wrong. I can guarantee that some girl is going to read that and feel like she isn’t good enough for not being that big/small, as she won’t be “perfect”. If they are going to bother updating the series (which was no great literary shakes) they could at least attempt to be sensitive to their readers (teenage girls).

What editor deemed it necessary to even make this change?! To begin with, would teens today not know what a size 6 is? The change from a Fiat to a Jeep seems necessary, as most teens would have no idea what a Fiat is in 2008. And the update from a newspaper to a website also makes sense, as most schools have some type of website. But in the eyes of Random House, the greatest improvement made by the Wakefield twins in the last 25 years is that they shrank?! As if teenage girls don’t have enough body-image issues from television and magazines, we now need to raise the Wakefield twins from the dead and make then skinnier?

I’m sorry, but what exactly was wrong with leaving them as a size 6? And don’t give me the BS that women’s size labels have shrunk in the last 2 decades so it was necessary to update that in the book. Not one teen girl would know that. If they did, it would not keep them from enjoying the series. Is it too much to ask that Random House promote a healthy body image? I would be happier if no size was included in the twins’ descriptions at all, to be honest. I don’t think it’s necessary to tell the reader their clothing size. Actually, looking back, I read a few of the books when I was younger and I have no recollection of Elizabeth and Jessica’s dress sizes being mentioned. Perhaps it was mentioned in passing once or twice, but it was certainly never a focus of the books. Great- it makes it even worse, in my opinion, that the Random House publicity department chose to highlight the girls’ sizes in their press release.

*Sigh* I think tween and young adult literature has come a long way in the last twenty-five years. But it seems that the publishers still need to come a little farther when it comes to advertising their books. Teens, especially teen girls, do not need to focus on tiny, skinny, unrealistic girls in their novels. Just look at this press release, and at the covers of books like the “Gossip Girl” series- all skinny, model-like girls. Speaking as a tiny, skinny girl (who was frequently made fun of in her teen years for being “too skinny”), who is naturally tiny, I am offended! Books should be about escaping into another life and another world. Readers shouldn’t have to focus on what a character is “supposed” to look like. That’s what your imagination is for!

Please, publishers, let this be a lesson. Size does not matter in cases like this!

In the interest of full disclosure, I was never a huge SVH fan. I thought the characters were shallow and always felt bad for Elizabeth because she was the smart girl who rarely got the popularity or other “cool” stuff. On the other hand, I love reading “Gossip Girl” as a guilty pleasure series. In other words, this isn’t an indictment of YA chicklit. It’s just an indictment of the way these books are advertised.

5 Responses

  1. i was kinda fence sitting about buying these for my classroom library. on the one hand, i read like sixty of them as a kid and i’m sure they contributed something to my growth as a fluent reader. on the other hand, there’s lots of stupid gender values promoted in these books. lots of plot lines revolve around the need for male attention and the setting is this totally materialistic california beach side community. this press release helped me decide: NO WAY! there’s too many other good choices. (i do wish for a series or two targeted at tweens, but not at this cost)….

  2. Wow, that is sad. Thanks for pointing this out, as I hadn’t heard about it yet.

  3. I was so surprised when I first heard about this. It’s truly unfortunate that Random House made this move. Girls as young as 8 years old are already dieting. Decisions such as this one share some of the blame for that.

  4. I was shocked when I read that the twins’ sizes have been reduced! How did they get thinner and what good would it bring to its readers? Already we have girls thinking they’re fat when they’re actually thin. This is just crazy!

  5. The very first thing I noticed on page 1 of the updated series was the “updated” language (which seems a bit dated to me, anyway). The second thing I noticed was the clothing size reduction from 6 to 4. I find it appalling that the publishers would choose to “update” the series, not with open-mindedness, self-esteem, and acceptance, but, as you mentioned, with labels of “perfection.” Kids are already inundated with manipulated images that not even the models and celebrities can live up to; their works of fiction are telling them what size they “should” be, and reducing the already high standard. It was a poor choice. I am a teen specialist at a library and it is because of these updated that I’m voting not to carry this “updated” series.

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