Francine Pascal’s Sweet Valley Saga: The Wakefield’s of Sweet Valley & The Wakefield Legacy

I’m not sure if it’s because I read so many books or there is something up with my brain, but in general, I don’t remember a lot of what I read. And yet, I can recall not only key moments from The Wakefields of Sweet Valley, created by Francine Pascal (she/her), but I can remember when I first read it: on the back of a motorcycle riding from Michigan to Pennsylvania in 1997. I had just turned 13.

Where did the infamous Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield of Sweet Valley, California, come from? In this saga, the author explores their maternal side of the family, starting with Alice Larson in 1866. I do recall feeling swept away myself when Alice, age sixteen and an orphan, who boarded a ship from Sweden to arrive in Ellis Island, is thrust into the ocean during a storm. I vividly remember the moment when she realized, still under water, that she had to breathe, and sucks in the ocean. She’s saved, though, by a man named Theodore Wakefield, which — WHOA, the last name!!! — doesn’t make sense. If this is a maternal family tree, no way can Alice and Theo marry unless the twins have some very straight branches in their family tree. Tragically — and don’t you love when you can use “tragically” with all the passion of Anne Shirley of Green Gables?? — the two get separated on Ellis Island because Theo is quarantined, and off Alice goes to eventually marry some other guy and birth a set of twins.

What I love about The Wakefields of Sweet Valley is that every generation is basically Elizabeth and Jessica Wakefield, whom I know better than myself, in different eras. The author is careful to add in specific details of each time period, such as the opinions people have about cars as they are introduced, the clothes, whether a building has electric lights, hints about the rise of Nazism and the role America played, movie stars who are popular, and the campus sit-in’s of the 60’s. I’d argue this saga taught me a more memorable history than my drab textbooks in school.

Because Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield are so well known, not a lot of character development happens as we travel through five generations. As I mentioned, fans of the series know them so well that we expect each twin set in the family tree to have a Jessica-type and an Elizabeth-type. Being able to focus on the setting and being engaged with the drama instead of getting to know the people actually makes this one of the more enjoyable sagas I’ve read. Compared to Some Sing, Some Cry or Roots, each generation earns equal space on the page. Typically, the first couple of generations get the lion’s share of the novel and then as we get closer to the present, those generations are raced through, and I care little about the characters. Everyone remembers Kunta Kinte, but does anyone know the last generation or two?

Also for those who love the Sweet Valley series, each generation has some familiar names and faces, such as Patman, Egbert, and Wilkins. There is always a loyal boyfriend-type and also a scoundrel who can make your monetary dreams come true, but if each generation just sticks to their intuition, it will all work our to lead to Jessica and Elizabeth. Because it has to.

Here’s the thing that makes the book have even more drama beyond the romance: if the author includes several generations of twins, and readers have strong Team Jessica or Team Elizabeth mentality, how does the writer decide which one to follow and keep readers happy? Well, the author kills one twin, of course. History tells us that only one twin gets to live beyond early adulthood, which makes me wonder about Jessica and Elizabeth’s futures!

Really, a dramatic, fun, and oddly educational book aimed at readers age 12 and up.

The Wakefield Legacy saga, in contrast, follows the twin’s paternal lineage.

In The Wakefields of Sweet Valley, there are three occasions during which the twin’s maternal and paternal families meet: the original story of immigrants traveling to the U.S., during the flapper years when a college student and hopeful writer are nearly engaged, and then in the 1960s when the twin’s parents actually meet, get married, and birth the twins. What that means is there are three generations in The Wakefield Legacy whose stories are basically what happened from the other person’s perspective. You’d think I’d be thrilled about this.

Even looking at my copy of the book, I can tell I was not. The pages are less worn, the spine less bent. As I reread, I realized I couldn’t remember most of these stories. What made one saga more entertaining than the other? Perhaps the order in which I read them. Maybe because the maternal side felt more surprising. It also could be that the paternal saga followed male characters for the most part, but would occasionally switch to a female character . . . that would be the twin’s great-great aunt vs. their great-great grandfather. Why switch to someone not directly in the family line? Maybe that twin dynamic (there are several generations of Wakefield twins on the maternal side) is really, really what hooks readers eager to see the struggle between different personalities bound by DNA. Whatever the case, I found myself putting down The Wakefield Legacy and eager to read The Wakefields of Sweet Valley.

17 comments

    • There are four sagas, including these, the Fowlers, and the Patmans. Bruce Patman’s dad appears in both of the books I reviewed today. It’s amazing how many twins are on the mother’s side of the family! It almost reads like a time travel novel in which Jessica and Elizabeth and sent to different eras and we watch to see what they would do.

      Like

  1. Ok I love the sound of these two books, no wonder they had such an affect on you! But what I’m more interested in – riding on the back of a motorcycle when you’re 15??? TEll me more!!!! Who was driving, let’s start with that LOL

    Like

    • I’m not even sure I was 15 yet…I was probably…13. Anyway, I rode most of the trip with my dad while my brother rode with Biscuit. I have all kinds of motorcycle talents: reading, napping, putting my arms out and pretending like I’m flying.

      Like

Insert 2 Cents Here:

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s