Long before Twilight or Gossip Girl dominated the tween reading lists, there was one series from the 1980s that set the bar for mega-hits in young adult literature: Sweet Valley High.
It's been 10 years since author Francine Pascal wrote the last book. Now, she's written an update called Sweet Valley Confidential, and the original series is set to become a major motion picture.
If you've never read a Sweet Valley High book, this is all you need to know: it's the story of two blond twins — Elizabeth and Jessica Wakefield. They are queens of their school. Elizabeth is the good one. Jessica, is the evil one, always trying to sabotage her sweet sister. It is a morality play, albeit one soaked in Aquanet.
Sweet Valley High creator Francine Pascal, now 72 years old, says, "It's always surprised me how alive this series was. I would meet women in their late 20s or 30s, and when they found out who I was they became 16 again."
And it's for these women that Pascal wanted to revisit the twins in a new book. In it, the twins are now 27, and confronting very adult problems.
"I just felt that that would be a lot of fun for them, to see what happened when these marvelous characters that they loved so much, became their age," Pascal says.
One of Pascal's early readers was Oscar-winning screenwriter Diablo Cody. She's now working on a movie adaptation of the original Sweet Valley series — and she calls it her dream project:
"As a kind of mousey plain little girl growing up in the midwest, I thought the greatest thing I could aspire to was to be blond and beautiful, and have an alter ego who was also my best friend and be living in California."
Cody's film will be the second screen-adaptation of the series. It was a hit TV show in the mid 1990s.
Brittany Daniel, who played Jessica Wakfield in the TV show opposite her twin sister Cynthia, says that the role was a natural fit for her as one-half of a blong twin duo. "Growing up as a twin, the #1 birthday present you get is a Sweet Valley High book," Daniel says. "We grew up And we grew up reading those books, and wherever we'd go around as kids, they'd be like 'oh it's the Sweet Valley High twins!' Finally one day we got a call about the audition and it was like, oh my god, this is like the perfect role for us."
Daniel says that even her and her sister's personalities matched up with their characters.
"My sister Cynthia, she's a little more like Elizabeth, she's a little more soft-spoken, and I'm a little more I guess outgoing and aggressive."
The question of whether you are more of "a Jessica" (evil) or "an Elizabeth" (goody two-shoes) is the heart of the Sweet Valley series.
"Francine told me that one thing that interested her was that girls would write to her and tell her how much they loved Jessica, but the girls themselves, she could tell, were Elizabeths," says Diablo Cody. "Because they're writing into their favorite author, you know. Which is not something Jessica would do. She felt that her fans were mostly Elizabeths who wanted to be Jessica."
The good twin/bad twin theme, the hormonal drama, the endless summer — it was all catnip for teenagers, but Pascal says that for her, the books had a deeper meaning.
"One of the reasons I wrote Sweet Valley the way I did it was that I wanted girls to drive the action. Up until then, in all those romance books, the girl was waiting to be kissed, to wake up Sleeping Beauty. And in Sweet Valley, those girls do drive the action."
Pascal says she's not sure whether the new book will be the end of the Wakefield twins saga. But fans can expect the movie version of Sweet Valley sometime next year. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.