The Woman Behind Sweet Valley

With the long-awaited sequel about to drop, it's time to ask, who, exactly, is Francine Pascal?

The Daily Beast has you covered: in a piece on the 73-year-old author (who has never, prior to this, written a SW installment cover-to-cover), Jessica Bennett writes,

Ironically, Pascal had never set foot in California when she birthed her Valley dolls. A lifelong New Yorker, she grew up in a Jewish family in Queens, inspired by her brother, the playwright behind Broadway hits Hello, Dolly! and Bye Bye Birdy. After a stint writing for soap operas with her husband, a columnist for Newsday, Pascal conceived of Sweet Valley as a kind of teenage Dallas. "I got my images from MGM movies," she laughs. "But since I'd never been there, I could do whatever I wanted."

While I'm not sure you want your authors to be Angel Deveril types caught up in their own mythology, I felt a little funny reading Pascal say, "[my publisher] and I used to fall on the floor laughing about how silly they were." After all, you never want to think an author — especially such a successful YA author — looks down on her readers, even if you sort of assume as much. Especially when, as in this case, readers were so integral to the series' success. Says Bennett,

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Many booksellers...deemed Sweet Valley too "commercial" for their readers. The Times snubbed the series; librarians fought to keep their stacks free of the "skimpy-looking paperbacks," as one library journal put it. It was Pascal's fans who defended her: buying a dizzying 250 million copies before the series published its 152nd and final title, in 2003.

Of course, it's hard to make a case for the Wakefield twins as feminist icons — even if Bennett makes a strong argument for the "perfect size sixes" as the original Carrie Bradshaws. Hell, I wasn't even allowed to read the books, because my mother considered them retrograde trash. (As a result they still feel racy, and the act of reading them totally transgressive.) But people loved them, and devoured them, and they created the fantasy worlds that many women have carried into their 30s. And Pascal — even as she seems ambivalent about her legacy — owns part of it. As she says, "There were many superficial things about them, but when it came right down to it, readers were getting my politics, my ethics, my morals...And I wanted these girls to drive the action."

The Godmother Of Chick-Lit [Daily Beast]