In 1983, Bantam published the first of Francine Pascal’s Sweet Valley High novels, starring a pair of twins: sweet, studious Elizabeth and scheming, snobby Jessica. The good twin/bad twin dynamic proved very popular: sales of the 156 novels in the series reached 60 million copies, and SVH inspired a handful of successful spinoff series. Now Random House Children’s Books is introducing these teenage twins to a new generation of readers, reissuing updated mass market editions of the first 12 installments of the series under its Laurel-Leaf imprint. Featuring new, photographic covers, the inaugural releases, Double Love and Secrets, are due in April with a combined first printing of 100,000 copies. Two additional titles will follow in August.
The decision to bring the series back into print 25 years after its first appearance was based on a combination of factors, according to Beverly Horowitz, v-p and publisher of Bantam Delacorte Dell Books for Young Readers. “Even though decades have passed, we realized that these books haven’t lost their meaning,” she says. “Girls today are still drawn to stories about the bad girl and the good girl, sister relationships, friendships, family and high school life. And has any of those things changed much? I don’t think so. This series was one of the first to deal with issues and emotions realistically, and readers in the 1980s really connected with these characters. I think they, and the original plot lines, have withstood the test of time.”
What had not aged as well were the teens’ methods of communication. With the exception of some fashion tweaks (“a peach skirt may have changed its color,” notes Horowitz), the only significant changes to the existing texts—made by in-house editors—were updates in technology, with added references to cell phones, text messaging and IM-ing. Horowitz puts the communication revolution in perspective: “Back when the books first came out, if a rumor was circulating around school, kids would get a phone call about it after they returned home in the afternoon. Now, if news breaks, they text-message each other immediately and 40 people know about it before the end of class.”
Horowitz relays an incident that she feels validated the SVH reissue program. On a whim, she sent out an “open call” e-mail inviting Random House employees to eat pizza and share their memories of reading the original series. “The response was incredible,” she recalls. “We had 45 people show up and others responded that they were so sorry they couldn’t make it. Ten and 15 years after first reading these novels they had distinct memories of the plot twists and characters and they said that it wasn’t just a nostalgia thing, but that they felt that kids today will still relate to the stories.” And when author Pascal made a surprise guest appearance at the gathering, “It was as though a rock star had entered the room,” Horowitz says.
The publisher’s marketing campaign aims to reach both nostalgia-driven and first-time SVH readers. To catch the attention of the series’ original fans, postcards will be distributed to bars and restaurants in 10 cities. Ads will appear on posters in six cities in May and on lifeguard towers and telephone kiosks in beach areas during the summer. A dedicated Web site, SweetValley.com, will launch in April, and RHCB has created tote bags touting the series.
At Anderson’s Bookshop in Naperville, Ill., owner Becky Anderson has the first SVH releases on order and expects that they will sell. “If they can update Nancy Drew, why not update the twins?” she says. “With the books’ high school connection and the popularity now of High School Musical, I think they will work.”