YA blogs: Where nostalgia and snark collide
There’s something comforting about re-reading and reminiscing about books from your childhood, and that’s precisely what dozens of adult bloggers are currently doing. But they aren’t just fondly recalling Claudia Kishi’s wacky wardrobe or the schemes of Jessica Wakefield – they’re calling the characters (and authors) out for all of their inconsistencies and unrealistic depictionsof teen life in a very loving form of snark.
Nikki Boisturestarted her blog, Are You There Youth? It’s Me, Nikki, in August 2008, after she was sent a link to a blog about the Baby-Sitters Club series and “was smitten with that immediately.” After discovering another blog on Sweet Valley High, she decided it was time to put together her own.
“I realized that even though I read a ton of BSC and Sweet Valley growing up, I read a lot of other books that no one seemed to be talking about,” she says. Boisture’s blog focuses on books published from the mid-1970s to the early 1990s. There are, of course, a handful of books she knew had to be reviewed – Silver, Beloved Benjamin is Waiting, and most of Judy Blume’s work, but she also sometimes unexpectedly stumbles upon blog fodder while frequenting used bookstores.“It’s great to sit there sifting through a pile of used books and finding a stack of Mary Downing Hahn books that I had completely forgotten about,” she says.
Whereas Boisture will post about any number of YA series, fellow blogger Robin Hardwick has focused her efforts exclusively on the world of Sweet Valley for her blog, The Dairi Burger (named after one of the Wakefield twins’ favorite hangouts.) “My parents were cleaning out their basement and sent me a whole box of my old books,” says Hardwick. “It was like a warped trip down memory lane. I chose Sweet Valley High books because I remember them being so over-the-top ridiculous, and, even at age ten, I could identify them as being campy.”
She started her blog in May 2007 on a whim one night when she couldn’t sleep; now, it has fans from as far away as Australia and Japan. “I am surprised that I’ve kept it up this long; I’ve read and commented on over 100 young adult books so far,” she says. “It has been a source of constancy in my life. I’ve moved three times and changed jobs three times since I started it, but the community built around it has stayed the same. It’s been very comforting.”
Posts on both blogs normally recap a specific book, giving a short synopsis as well as a detailed explanation as to why the book is ridiculous-slash-unbelievable-slash-still awesome. Readers are allowed to interact, and both blogs have regular commenters. “I’m surprised that I have readers at all!” says Boisture. “I remember being a teenager and wanting so badly to talk about these books with people. But even people who liked to read generally didn’t want to dissect every last word like I wanted to.”
Both women read these books for the first time during their early teens, and for Boisture, snarking about the books makes looking back at that time easier. “I think adolescence is a period of life that is just no fun at all, and if we can’t just completely lobotomize ourselves of those memories then we might as well make fun of it,” she says. “Sometimes when I snark a book, I’m not just snarking the book, but who I was when I read it. It’s a cathartic way of dealing with my unhappy adolescence.”
It’s not all snark, either; she praises many of the books she grew up with. “When I read a truly good book, I like to give credit where it’s due,” she says. “I gushed over Maniac Magee, And You Give Me a Pain, Elaine, the Ramona books, and Beloved Benjamin is Waiting. All great books, and without those, I sometimes think I wouldn’t be able to get through the truly awful ones, like The Great Mom Swap.”
Because Hardwick focuses on just one series – a rather outlandish one at that – it’s not hard for her to find things to make fun of. “I think it’s because they take themselves so seriously and everything is so dramatic,” she says. “One of the twins is kidnapped and/or almost murdered in every other book. One of the twins goes into a coma and wakes up with a different personality. The twins meet movie stars and start dating them. In one day they start a cheerleading squad and the next day win the championship; the rich kids have fountains in their houses and drive Porches. And through all of this, they are supposed to be just ‘typical teens’ doing ‘teen stuff.’”
Hardwick also likes to take a look at Sweet Valley through a feminist or sociological lens – and oftentimes, it’s not pretty. “The characters in these books are so stereotypical in gender, and attractiveness is the ultimate marker of success,” she says. “Overweight girls are made to seem like pathetic, uncontrolled outcasts, and even kids who have single parents are made to seem wild. Not to mention that all the main characters are white, and every once in a while there is a ‘very special character of color’ who is used to teach the reader about race relations. It’s pretty insulting.”
While both the Baby-Sitters Club and Sweet Valley High series have been dormant for years, they’re making a comeback – Ann M. Martin wrote a prequel, The Summer Before, released earlier this month, and the first few BSC books are being re-released with some updates (Stacey’s perm is now an “expensive hairstyle” and cassettes are out). Francine Pascal is also writing a book about the twenty-something Wakefields, Sweet Valley Confidential, tentatively scheduled for a February 2011 release.
“I’m terribly excited for the BSC prequel and for the BSC re-releases. I’m getting them for my niece for her birthday and I seriously hope we can bond over them!” says Boisture. “I’m more excited for the BSC than I am Sweet Valley, mostly because I was a bigger BSC fan growing up, but also because I like the idea of a prequel more than a sequel. I sort of have this idea in my head about how the girls from the BSC or the Wakefield twins grew up, and I hate the idea of a sequel coming out and ruining my perfect fantasy.”
Hardwick agrees, for slightly different reasons. “The very nature of the Sweet Valley books are that they are relics of the ’80s and early ’90s, and really reflected those times,” she says. “I like to remember the Wakefield twins frozen in time at sixteen and seemingly, disgustingly perfect. Setting something in the future may have to deal with those pesky life things, like jobs, rent, and growing older. We don’t want to read that! We want to read about beach parties and school dances!”
While young adult books these days tend to be less about parties and baby-sitting and more about vampires and gossip girls, Boisture and Hardwick think that down the road, these will be snarked upon as well. “As long as there is good fodder for these blogs – which I think there always will be – these blogs will continue,” says Boisture. “I seriously hope that current fourteen-year-olds will snark on Twilight in the future. I’m not a fan of the Twilight series for so many reasons, but I try not to be too hard on the young girls who read it. Because God knows I read far too much Sweet Valley back in the day for me to ever judge a teenager for reading something lame.”
“Snark happens now. Snark is the new form of flattery,” says Hardwick. “I don’t think I would spend so much time making fun of Sweet Valley High if I didn’t have some sort of masochistic love relationship with the books. I do think that the most fun thing we can do is laugh at ourselves, so in a few years as the teens become adults, they will have fun laughing at what they enjoyed when they were younger.”
Check out these other great blogs:
1Bruce1: Named in honor of Bruce Patman’s Porsche, snarkiness is the name of the game at this LiveJournal group dedicated to all things Sweet Valley.
Shannon’s Sweet Valley Blog: If you have any questions about any Sweet Valley High book ever, this absolutely thorough blog is the place to go.
What Claudia Wore: Because the best part of any Baby-Sitter’s Club book was the detailed paragraph describing every single item of clothing and accessories that Claudia Kishi wore.
Sweet Valley High