I wrote a satirical story for a book I’m working on, Lost Tales, called “The Last of Sweet Valley High.” I will give the reader no spoilers about how the story–it was a scant 5 pages–began or ended, except that it was a hate fest towards a series of books I had a love-hate relationship with ever since the last one I read in the 8th Grade. Nobody thinks Sweet Valley High goes deep, but I see it for young girls what Gone With the Wind more or less is for black people. It encourages superficial values, and have nothing like artistic truth attempted in them. I remember my own High School days and the words swell within me, “That was not like what high school was like at all.” (Only dullards think that Sweet Valley High is for real High Schoolers; I only had one friend who read them in High School, and her pleasure was derisive. What the rest of us know is that the spinoff Sweet Valley Twins was hawked in weakly readers I read in grade school. There really isn’t a need for Sweet Valley Kids; in grades 3 or 4 a child can grasp anything necessary to understand Sweet Valley Twins.)
I get ill thinking about the unrealistic, romantic themes done to death, and of course no book ever ends without a sales pitch for the next book. The characters always look perfect, and all of the people in the books would be wealthy if you pictured it in real life. They have no real problems, and if they did it would be solved within one book. (I have no problem with solving one problem in one book, but if there are 1500 books in the series and there is one token book on race, all I can say is that race issues must have become truly impolitically correct not to leave out entirely because Sweet Valley High has never taken any brave stands on anything.) The emotions are all on the shallow side of the pool, because in Sweet Valley, even sex never leads to pregnancy, and issues like drug use never occur to the writers (because by now it is entirely ghost written).
There are books I have read for adolescents–like the Babysitters Club, for instance–that at least had vivid characters and plots that seem within the realm of what was possible to a pre-teen. Though I have not read the Eclipse series, I believe it is a cut above Sweet Valley crap and got a copy for my niece. (It got her reading.) Yet I have the bad feeling that the reason that awful High School series survives is because there are so few really good books written for adolescents. I admit, it is a hard age to write for.
I have tried to write for adolescents–Grace; or in Search of the Leviathan and The Cycle of Ahriman. Finding a publisher has been impossible. Yet I think themes for today’s children might include everything from what to do if your parents divorce; stories about first love, both when a teen falls in love and–perhaps–when they discover that their first kiss is not the same person they marry; problems with racial unrest (a black person could easily write about a teenage kid taking part in Black Lives Matter); books promoting clean living: a teen says “no” to a friend who offers them drugs and sex, despite the social consequences; and books written on lighter themes, like nature poetry and spirituality.
One book I want to write eventually is a book about two black children, Jeremy and Peninah. The hero and heroine are the younger siblings of the heads of two rival gangs, the Red Devils and the Blue Sharks. I won’t go into any details, but I believe even though I am white and from Kansas I can write about it. Why? Because when I went through the public school system, I used to get in fist fights with boys who I knew would eventually join gangs. Truthfully, I was almost a juvenile delinquent myself. Only one fight I got in–and this is a strange point to make–was with a girl. Yet often looking back I wonder about those girls who I believed were so at fault when I was a child. I believed that in every fight I was the “good one.” That can’t possibly be true. That is why I wonder about those kids whose parents did not hospitalize them, and how they turned out.
The other “book for adolescence” I want to write is Mowgli. It is a retelling of The Jungle Book’s main story. Yet I want to figure out the relationship between Mowgli and his “Wolf Brothers” who age and achieve adulthood at a younger age than he does. The climax in the book is when Mowgli battles Sher Kahn. It is a moment when adolescent angst comes in pursuit of Mowgli in the form of that tiger. I also want to include something noticeably absent from Kipling’s classic: Hindu spirituality. However, I will keep the curious guessing about the rest of that.