To celebrate over 35 years of her beloved YA series ‘Sweet Valley High,’ best-selling author Francine Pascal reflects on her remarkable career with Kristen Baldwin from Entertainment Weekly… Support our news coverage by subscribing to our Kindle Nation Daily Digest. Joining is free right now!
Francine Pascal’s blockbuster young-adult book series followed the charmed yet dramatic lives of impetuous, boy-crazy Jessica Wakefield and her studious, sensible sister, Elizabeth, two 16-year-olds with nothing in common but their “perfect size-six figures,” “sun-streaked blond hair,” and “sparkling blue-green eyes.”
Sitting in the living room of her elegant midtown Manhattan apartment, Pascal, 81, attributes Sweet Valley High’s longevity to the universal agony of the adolescent experience. “The saying ‘The more things change, the more things stay the same’ really applies to those years. There’s such similarity, no matter how different today’s teenager thinks she is,” says the author. “She’s the same in here [points to her heart] and in here [points to her head] as I was — but the clothes are different.”
Like so many great ideas, Sweet Valley High was born out of two key circumstances in a writer’s life: rejection and deadline pressure. After the success of Hangin’ Out With Cici and her 1980 novel, The Hand-Me-Down Kid, Pascal pitched networks a soap opera centered on teens in high school. “They were not interested,” she recalls. “They said it was too girly.” Then a casual comment from a friend — plus a looming obligation to her publisher — combined to spark magic.
PASCAL: A friend of mine had lunch with a [book] editor, a man, who said, “Why isn’t there a Dallas for young people?” I thought about it, and I actually had a book [proposal] due. There are a lot of twins in my life. [My agent] Amy [Berkower] is a twin. My sister-in-law was a twin. People are always fascinated by twins. You’ll never be alone. [Laughs] I thought about it, and this other soap opera thing was in my head, the one that I couldn’t sell. I sat down and I wrote a [character] bible and the first 12 [SVH] stories. It went quickly because it was such a fertile idea. Bantam Books loved it. They ordered all 12.
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