Book name: SVH Promises
Author/creator: Kate William/Francine Pascal
Format: ebook, print
Genre: School stories, vintage children’s fiction
Publication Date: 1984
Star Rating: 5/5
I’ve been a fan of 'Sweet Valley High' since discovering the TV version when I was a teenager. That’s an awfully long time ago…
Francine Pascal presided over a team of ghostwriters to maintain the 'Sweet Valley High' franchise. Sweet Valley High Promises was written by Kate William.
Sweet Valley is a small town in California and its high school is right at the centre of the series. Twins Elizabeth and Jessica Wakefield couldn’t be more different. Elizabeth, the elder by mere minutes, is sensitive and considerate. Jessica is only out for herself. I love this dichotomy, and it makes for plenty of drama.
Life is good with its focus on boys, clothes and hanging out with your girlfriends, even if the people Elizabeth and Jessica surround themselves with couldn’t have less in common if they tried.
However, the twins’ brother Steven is facing a terrible tragedy: the death of his girlfriend Tricia from leukemia. Tricia’s family is challenging to say the least: her father is an alcoholic and her sister Betsy is into drugs, drink and boys.
Sweet Valley High Promises is no easy ride!
Elizabeth knows just how lucky the Wakefields are to have each other. Their mum and dad are loving and supportive, plus there’s plenty of firm but fair discipline to ensure good behaviour. She can’t help but contrast that with Betsy’s situation.
After Tricia slips away, without either her father or her sister present, the Wakefields invite Betsy to stay with them for a while.
Elizabeth, naturally, is full of sympathy and kindness towards Betsy. The latter yearns to change her life for the better, and Elizabeth and Steven are right there to help.
However, Jessica is too snobby to give Betsy a chance. She’s embarrassed that someone who isn’t super rich and glamorous is now connected with the Wakefields. She becomes determined to find something incriminating to alienate her parents from Betsy, so that their guest will be thrown out.
Jessica Wakefield is never likeable, at least not if she can help it, but this was pretty dire even by her standards.
Betsy is determined to start her life over but old insecurities die hard. She has trust issues with men that are amply explained by her father’s drinking and by the previous attitude that young men have taken towards her. When someone genuine wants to empower her drawing and painting, she just can’t see that this is an offer to be accepted.
Betsy is in every way deserving of the reader’s compassion and understanding. Everyone but Jessica is supportive, and gradually things start to turn around.
The narrative of Sweet Valley High Promises was positive and resilient in the face of unbelievable loss and suffering.
In dealing with teenage death and unstable home lives, the book doesn’t pull any punches. But there is never any doubt that the Wakefields’ kindnesses will make a difference to Betsy.
I was thoroughly impressed by how Kate William took on a painfully difficult topic and made it the cornerstone of her book. I felt so sorry for Betsy and as a loyal fan so proud of Steven and Elizabeth too.
The story was affirming and empowering while still being honest about the grief suffered by those left behind whenever a young person dies. I found it very moving but also very inspiring.
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