Sweet Valley High #62: Who’s Who by Francine Pascal

Alright, this time I have a flashback to 1990! Although I used to own many Sweet Valley High books, the only two that I kept from the high school series are #1: Double Love and today’s book, #62: Who’s Who? Once again, the series was Created by Francine Pascal and Written by Kate Williams. I always forget the layers of subterfuge in the creation of the Sweet Valley High books. Pascal came up with the big idea and wrote about 8-9 pages of ideas for each book. Kate Williams is not a real person, I’ve learned. That’s the writer name given on every book. In fact, Amy Boesky (she/her) wrote about eight Sweet Valley books per year for six while she was doing her PhD in famous writes from the 1600’s at Oxford. Boesky only quit writing when she began teaching as a professor (Kenyon Review).

The twins dressed as Daniella Fromage and Magenta Galaxy.

Side Note: If you want to know the look of the original characters, check out the board game.

In Who’s Who, Jessica has apparently dated every boy at Sweet Valley High and is sick of how boring they all are. During a trip to the mall with identical twin Elizabeth, Jessica sees a new store advertising at $5 you can put in an application to find a dating match. A computer does all the work! (The future is now!!).

To double her chances, Jessica asks for two applications, one for her and one for Elizabeth. Instead, Jessica fills out one app with the name “Daniella Fromage” (yes, that’s “cheese” in French) and includes a laundry list of “sophisticated” hobbies, like watching subtitled movies, visiting museums, and listening to sonatas. On the second app she writes “Magenta Galaxy” (any relation to Jackson Galaxy, the host of My Cat From Hell? LOL) and describes pastimes such as watching live music performed by underground rock bands. If our selfish cheerleader and popular girl wants to pull off her ruse, she’s going to need to study up on two personalities so she can play the parts.

As always, reliable, trusty Elizabeth sends out a warning to Jessica: her schemes are going to backfire, and Elizabeth will be left picking up the pieces so Jessica doesn’t get hurt. It’s a tale as old as time with these twins, but in Who’s Who, there is another point made about taking risks in life. Maybe this is why I related so much to Elizabeth: her anxiety prevents her from taking action without knowing the results before trying.

Elizabeth felt her cheeks redden. “I wasn’t trying to insult you,” she apologized. “I just don’t want you to end up getting hurt.”

Jessica made a face. “You always say that, Liz. You never take risks. You just play it safe so you don’t ‘end up getting hurt.'”

“So? What’s wrong with that?” Elizabeth asked. She felt embarrassed and guilty. When Jessica put it that way, it made her seem dull and spiritless. “What’s wrong with knowing your limitations?”

I like this passage because it shows that Elizabeth has moderate ambition and doesn’t try new things, though high school is where we put on different identities. Personally, I tried French, art, drama, and orchestra in addition to my regular requirements.

Recently, I heard on one of the Ten Percent Happier podcast episodes that you should not tie your identity up in an activity because you may not always be able to do it. Instead, turn toward which aspect of that activity makes you happy. This is good advice, especially since it bothers me that I don’t write fiction despite having three degrees in . . . *checks notes* . . . writing fiction. What was it about fiction writing I loved? Talking about stories in a group, talking to writers, going to public readings, and imagining how a story could be different — the limitless feeling of storytelling.

In that sense, I enjoyed Who’s Who because even though it’s silly, I find it oddly realistic. Some of us got excited about switching schools or leaving middle school for high school because we could start anew, be someone different. New clothes, new hobbies, new friends; whatever you want. You can’t radically change your identity as an adult (or if you have, please give your example in the comments!). Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t see a lot of books for young people that encourage them to try new identities and discover what made them happy about that identity. Instead, it seems like kids are told they’re great as they are and that growing is a linear process. But don’t we all deserve a regrettable parachute pants phase? Or a memory of the time we dyed our hair purple and it wouldn’t come out? Or that regrettable weekend we spent at a non-denominational Christian camp?

More on the nostalgia side, I enjoy how Who’s Who reminds me of the complicated phone schemes we all devised when a house only had one phone line. Jessica has two boys calling her for Daniella/Magenta, so she gives one boy her best friend, Lila’s, phone number so Lila can take messages. That way, it halves the chances of Jessica’s parents answering the phone and wondering who “Magenta” and “Daniella” are. When the friend tries to pass a message along to Jessica, the phone line is busy.

After Lila heard the dial tone, she punched in Jessica’s phone number. She got the busy signal. Making a face, Lila hung up.

“Get off the phone, Wakefield,” Lila muttered. . . . She hit the redial button on her phone, but the Wakefields’ number was still busy.

“Come on, ” Lila grumbled. “I know it’s you blabbing away, Jessica.”

Sure, we don’t have these phone frustrations anymore, but don’t you also feel obligated to answer your cell even when you’re busy?

Another enjoyable entry in the world of Sweet Valley High!

Tell me in the comments different identities you tried as a young adult. Also, what phone tricks did you use before cell phones?

CW: none

25 comments

  1. At uni I was a radical with long, no doubt dirty, hair, old jeans and bare feet. I would often walk through the city and for some reason had a favourite clothes shop (London Store). One day they had a pair of gold velvet flares and I just had to have them. I put them on for a party, but by the time I was half-way there my doubts overcame me, and I went home and never wore them again. (I was 19).

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    • Ha! What a great story, Bill. I think we’ve all been there before with trying something new and being flooding with doubt. Your gold velvet flares probably would have made friends with my crayon-red corduroy pants circa 1999. Back then, didn’t you worry about all the wild diseases and infections other people’s feet leave around?

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  2. This does sound like a mix of the absurd and the oddly realistic experience of being a teenager. I do wish I had taken more risks as a teenager and tried more things. And the phone thing is making me laugh! I don’t know if my kids even know what a busy signal is!

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      • I was pretty quiet and shy. I was a good student and wanted to be seen as such by adults but I also wanted to be cool and for boys to like me so I made some dumb choices too, aided by some pretty low self-esteem at the time. I was not laid-back…when I think of high school I think of myself as a bundle of nerves and stress. But it warms my heart that that is how you think of me now!

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  3. I used to talk on the phone to my friends ALL THE TIME, for hours. Now it’s near torture to talk on the phone. Things have changed a lot! But sometimes I miss the landline/answering machine for the unavailability aspect.

    Different identities? I don’t know that I’ve ever done that really. I’ve always been a rule-follower/people pleaser. I’ve certainly changed, learned, and grown over the years, but I don’t think I ever tried to be someone else (aside from trying to “fit in” in middle school, which everyone else was doing too.)

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    • I didn’t like talking on the phone back then, but just today I was telling one of my classmates, who is, I think twenty, seeing caller ID for the first time. It was my neighbor, and when the phone rang, literally everyone in the home would race to the phone to see the number calling. Too funny.

      I definitely dyed my hair and changed my style (always too late to be IN style) and had a fun Abercrombie & Fitch phase because I wanted to fit in, like my cousins.

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  4. Daniella Fromage!! I’m not sure I ever read this one but the writers must have loved it as it’s one of the few that gets mentioned a lot in later books.

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  5. I don’t think I really tried on any new identities when I was a teenager – I was just trying to get by! And I was probably too much of a rule follower to manage it anyway, really. I can see why this would be a lot of fun for a teenager or preteen to read, though – Daniella Fromage is a great fake name!

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    • I also think of trying out identities as more than clothes and hair, but as hobbies, too. Orchestra, theater, art, French, etc. I guess you could sum all that up as an “artsy kid,” but they’re rather different groups.

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  6. I had all of these and I have no idea where they went. I would love to have them now. I can vividly remember being at school and feeling self-conscious or overwhelmed and thinking to myself – what would Jessica do? 🙂

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    • Awww, Cathy, that’s so sweet! Jessica would surely steal something, lie to someone, and shed some fake crocodile tears. I hope you find them! I remember reading on your blog years ago that your count of 746 doesn’t include books in (I think) the attic!

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  7. I was too busy at school trying to get my exams and escape home to mess with my identity. But when I went to university … I went up a sort of Sloane Ranger with a flowery skirt, white tucked in blouse, sweater tied round my shoulders and a velvet hairband, oh, with court shoes – came back at Christmas a full-on Goth!

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  8. I can’t remember if I’ve mentioned this on here before, but I had dreadlocks for two years – two years!!! Crazy times. So I suppose that was my dreaded parachute pants phase 🙂

    I know what you mean about kids/YA books being realistic (like, the non-fantasy ones). This is how I feel about my kids picture books. I enjoy them because they have messages that are so simple, but so important for us to remembers as adults. Ones like “be kind to other people who are mean to you”. If only more adults read picture books, we’d be a much better society.

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  9. Moth distinctly remembers that I was wearing purple leopard print spandex pants when we met. I’m not ashamed of this though. In fact, I would like a new pair, please and thanks.
    Rob and I have moved so many times, to altogether new towns that it does feel like a new you every time. No one knows you. You start from scratch. You can be as open or closed off as you like. I sometimes get the itch to do it again.
    Back in school however, I remember being the new kid when we moved to Gaylord, and I did not like it. I made friends and had some bullies. One kid announced to the lunchroom that I had so many freckles on my forehead that it was like Star Wars. Obviously, this is a pretty lame insult, but your little kid brain doesn’t register that. Luckily, I was tough and made tough friends who would stand up to the bullies for me until I was ready to do it myself.

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