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).
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?