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  • Writer's pictureEmily

Children's favorites: Sweet Valley High and Caitlin

Updated: Oct 22, 2021

When I was writing about my childhood love of the Baby-sitters Club series, I wrote that I'd feel fine handing them to a child now. I feel differently about these series. I loved them at the time, reading them multiple times and studying the characters to try to figure out how to be more like them (prettier and popular). I was, I'd say, in fifth grade when I started reading SVH, and picked up Caitlin around 7th grade. Luckily, I think I was done with both by eighth grade.

I don't like them now because there is such a focus on the beauty of the main characters. In SVH, Elizabeth was the smarter, kinder twin, and I think that I felt at the time that her presence made everything all right; it didn't matter how mean and vain Jessica was, if Elizabeth was nearby helping an old woman cross the street. And neither of the girls was all bad, and, to be fair, these books are a soap opera. They were exciting and interesting. I guess that if I had a kid and she wanted to read them, I wouldn't say no, but I'd make her read something like a biography of Ruth Bader Ginsberg to balance it out.

The SVH books were very formulaic, as series fiction often is. The twins' looks were described in the same way every time: a perfect size six, turquoise eyes, etc. The kind of thing that would make me drop a book instantly now, but at the time, I lapped it up. I think that there were a few paragraphs that were distributed to anyone working on the series to be put in every book, but I'm not willing to research that. (BTW, I read somewhere a few years ago that in the updates, the twins are a size 4 now, so it's great to see that there has been some progress. I'd link if I remembered where it was.)

I don't remember Caitlin as well, but bits and pieces of it; it made more of an impression on my child-mind than I'm comfortable with now. Caitlin is beautiful, obviously, and very wealthy, but that's OK because she's an orphan and her grandmother is mean. Balance!

I don't know if I was aware at the time that these two series were linked, but it seems impossible that I could have missed that. I don't remember it at all and only found out when I began to look up the Caitlin books to see if I was remembering them correctly.

Caitlin is in nine books, I think, but I believe I only read four or five of them, and I'm not sure that it's a good sign that I could skip around like that and not get lost. Clearly they aren't very cerebral, but I was about twelve. But whatever, it's a soap opera again! My memory of them is that they're a little darker than SVH. There's no Elizabeth to wholesome everything down.

Here are two blogs I found that go into detail, stuff I'd completely forgotten and in some cases, never read:

I know that my friends were reading SVH, and I think that we sometimes talked about them and loaned each other our copies, but I don't remember anyone else reading Caitlin. She never seems to have taken off in the same way.

I don't have any links to either of these series. None of the original series is there. I'm not surprised; there has been so much great YA and middle-grade fiction that has come out since then. I really think that, especially with YA, it's better than what was available to me when I was that age. I'm sure that there are new series now that fill the soap-opera gap, and that's fine.


I remember that as a kid, I wanted everyone that I read about to be pretty and was disappointed to read a description of a main character that said she was ugly or awkward or anything like that. It worries me now how uninterested I was in reading a book that had anyone who looked like me in it. If a short, chubby, awkward, pale girl with flat hair and an overbite had wandered in to Sweet Valley High, they'd have called the Air Force to report an alien invasion. I think that Anne Shirley was my gateway into enjoying characters who weren't perfect beauties, who even (gasp) had red hair and were too skinny. (Now I kind of resent L. M. Montgomery for writing that her heroines weren't very pretty but they're always tall and slim and graceful and everyone thinks they're pretty even though they aren't the fashionable body type for Victorian times. But, it was such an enormous improvement over the Sweet Valley books I'd been hooked on, that I'm still a big fan.)

Thank goodness for Anne, anyway. She opened my eyes to a world of better heroines, who thought about things more serious than prom.

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