Sweet Valley High: Academic All-Star?
Pippa Mather (colors), Devaki Neogi (art), Cardinal Rae (letters), Katy Rex (writer)
July 31st, 2019
The young adult book series Sweet Valley High hit a peak of popularity in the ’80s and ’90s that made the soapy, wild adventures of the Wakefield twins inescapable for folks of a certain age. Now they can share the girls’ antics with a whole new generation as Katy Rex brings Francine Pascal’s characters into the modern age with their first graphic novel, Sweet Valley High: Academic All Star?
Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield are as different as different can be. Boy-crazy Jessica hangs out with her friends, watching soaps and making plans to flirt with guys over the summer. Elizabeth is happy to stick around her room between afternoons working as a lifeguard, beefing up her extracurriculars for college, and trying to keep her relationship with the perpetually whiny Todd afloat. But when Jessica is forced to make up a lit class at summer school in Sweet Valley U, her rambling answer to her TA, Roy Marlowe’s, question about Twelfth Night impresses. Developing an instant crush on him, she realizes to grab the attention of the way-too-old-for-her Roy she must post as a brainy type—a girl like Elizabeth. So Jessica chooses to all but pose as her twin, dressing more conservatively and spouting facts about arts and books. That’s enough to fool Todd into thinking that Liz is cheating on him. Now both twins are stuck in a pickle.
Well, I’ll give the book this—its writing replicates your average Sweet Valley High story right down to its more annoying bits. Todd is still a mopey clinger, Elizabeth is still an overworked, moral, type A personality, and Jessica still believes that any kind of attention is good attention. And even in 2019, Sweet Valley teens never do the obvious, like checking out their twin’s social media when they know she’s swiping your identity and ruining your relationship. And there’s not enough Lila Fowler and zero Bruce Patman!
The plot is… well, quite typical for a Sweet Valley High novel, but there’s a big dollop of humor wedged into the telling of it, which makes the shape of the plot archly snarky. Thankfully, Jessica’s dogged pursuit of Roy gets a hefty “hey, adults dating kids is fucking wrong maybe don’t do this, Jess” speech from Elizabeth. Jessica ignores it, natch, but hey, at least the book points out that you shouldn’t try this stuff at home.
Todd and Elizabeth’s story is something of a hot mess—again, like canon. You will absolutely want to strangle them as they spend half the novel complaining that they don’t look at each other’s iCals instead of, um… conversing about their plans before asking each other out? This is followed up by Todd being irrationally needy, whiny and jealous—again, just like in your average SVH book. I died laughing when the person waiting on Liz and Todd at a cafe replied to Todd’s storm off with a pithy “Again with this guy?” A hat-tip to Rex for getting and knowing the cadence of the series completely.
Otherwise a lot of the jokes are genuinely funny, and there’s an attempt at modernizing the dialogue and humor in a kind of Clueless way, but I don’t think any teenager needs to read the words “is butter a carb?” in 2019 outside of a matinee of Mean Girls.
And there’s the art. While some panels are fluid and amusing, very closely resembling the panels of classic romance comics in style and layout, in other panels poor Jessica and Elizabeth look like hollowed-out mannequins, their mouths splayed open and their limbs arranged in stiff positions. That detracts a bit from my enjoyment of the campy fun, but while it’s a little uneven, Sweet Valley High: Academic All-Star? does have its juicy, read-worthy high points.