I spent several years of my youth obsessed with identical Wakefield twins Jessica and Elizabeth and their gaggle of friends as they navigated their way through teen angst in Francine Pascal’s Sweet Valley High series. Like average teens across the country, they dealt with issues like heartbreak, bullying, drugs and alcohol, the pressures of academics, getting kidnapped and held hostage, falling into comas, getting into plane crashes, and winning beauty pageants (if they were real people, they would have been considered the Kardashians of the era!). Each drama installment was perfectly packaged on a small, paperback book cover illustrated by the genius that is James L. Mathewuse.
In light of the news that any one of us can be the star of our own SVH-like cover as Mathewuse is now taking commissions, I was compelled to take a walk down memory lane and revisit all 181 of the brilliant covers. While the first 10 are without a doubt the most iconic by default, there were several others that really brought back all the feels, if you know what I mean.
Here are my picks as the series’ top 10 most awesome covers, with the only criteria being they had to star Jessica or Elizabeth, because let’s be honest — we didn’t really care about the other books.
#1. Double Love
Plot: The debut novel of the Sweet Valley High series was totally epic to most females born in the late ’70s to early ’80s. Not only did it perfectly introduce us to the beautiful Wakefield sisters and their friends, foes, and crushes, but it got us hooked on the drama that we came to worship.
The book is aptly titled Double Love because identical twins Jessica and Elizabeth both totally dig the same dude, hunky Todd Wilkins, who seems to prefer Liz. He ends up taking Jessica to the fraternity/sorority dance (only in Sweet Valley do high schools have a Greek system), but pretty much only because she tricks him into thinking her sister has a date and also that Liz was busted at a bar with some older scumbag dropout Rick Andover (who is 17!), when of course, it was really Jessica.
Anyway, this book is as juicy as a tabloid. At the end, Sweet Valley’s “golden couple” Elizabeth and Todd unite and the twins get into their sorority.
Cover: Jessica, looking tres ’80s with a sexy smirk on her face and her hair all down, and Elizabeth, conservatively clad in a high-necked sweater and her hair half-up, innocently smiling.
Tagline: “Share the continuing story of the Wakefield twins and their friends — their laughter, heartaches, and dreams.”
Why it’s so awesome: Simple and sweet, in one portrait Mathewuse pretty much nails the theme of the whole series.
Plot: There’s a big dance coming up and Jessica will do anything to be queen, especially because it means that she will be sitting pretty on the throne with popular and rich Bruce Patman, sure to win king. Instead of campaigning the clean way, she sets out to ruin the reputation and life of her competition, Enid Rollins.
Anyway, if I recall, this book was pretty slender in pages compared to Pascal’s others, but still packed a mean, dramatic punch. To make a short story even shorter, despite Jessica’s plan backfiring, she still gets elected to the throne, but her sister makes sure that Winston Egbert, the geekiest kid in school, is her king. So basically Jess is forced to dance with a nerd. In the ’80s this was like, totally the worst fate EVER.
Cover: Jessica, in a form-fitting tank top, on her pink phone with an up-to-no-good expression on her face. Elizabeth, dressed in a conservative top, looks on with a totally horrified, mouth open gasp.
Tagline: “What Jessica wants, Jessica gets — even if someone gets hurt!”
Why it’s awesome: As the second book in the series, I think Mathewuse did a great job transitioning the twins into their first action shot and establishing Jess as the biatch and Liz as the goody two-shoes.
#4. Power Play
Plot: It’s twin against twin when Jessica blackballs a not-so-cool girl from their sorority after Liz made it her mission to get her in. The girl, who is on the heavier side, gets super depressed and loses a bunch of weight, and ends up becoming cool and getting crowned Miss Sweet Valley High. Today this book would have sparked major controversy in the body-shaming world, with the insinuation that all you need to do to be cool is be skinny.
Cover: Jessica in red gingham and Elizabeth in plaid, facing-off, both with total “don’t mess with me” biatch looks on their faces.
Tagline: “The Wakefield twins have taken sides — against each other!”
Why it’s awesome: Mathewuse has the girls face-to-face on this cover, which really ups the intensity of this twin-on-twin showdown.
#6. Dangerous Love
Plot: Elizabeth’s boyfriend Todd gets a new motorcycle, which revs up all sorts of drama because Liz isn’t allowed to ride it and other girls at SVH are. Well, Liz ends up riding it anyway, they crash, and she falls into a coma.
Cover: A gasping Elizabeth, gripping tightly onto a grinning Todd, with her blonde locks blowing in the wind from their motorcycle ride.
Tagline: “Are Elizabeth and Todd heading for disaster?”
Why it’s awesome: Motorcycles are just so dangerous, and Elizabeth so innocent, so the juxtaposition is jarring.
#7. Dear Sister
Plot: Elizabeth awakes from her coma and has transformed into Jessica, getting herself into typical Jessica trouble to the horror of her beloved boyfriend Todd. She ends up hitting her head shortly before making a huge mistake by cheating on her man with Bruce Patman, turning back into herself in the nick of time.
Cover: Jessica, looking absolutely distraught, holding a framed portrait of her dear sister Elizabeth.
Tagline: “Can Jessica face life without Elizabeth?”
Why it’s awesome: While a little overdramatic (Liz does wake up from her coma in the first chapter), the cover is a real draw because it makes us believe that Elizabeth is on her deathbed and we HAVE to find out what happens.
Super Edition #4. Malibu Summer
Plot: Jess and Liz spend their summer nannying in Malibu, where they meet totally hunky guys. Liz ends up dating one of them, who is actually a rock star that Jessica has a mad crush on who has disguised himself as a “normal” guy because his fan’s boyfriend wants to kill him. Liz ends up saving his life and the twins are treated to an awesome rock concert.
Cover: Jessica, looking sexy and up-to-no-good in a pink bikini, and Elizabeth, arms crossed in front of her, wearing a one-piece (of course) on the beach.
Why it’s awesome: Malibu was equivalent to the French Riviera for tweens in the ’80s and bikinis were scandalous, so this cover was pretty much the coolest thing since canned spray cheese, which was REALLY cool back then.
#23. Say Goodbye
Plot: The love of Elizabeth’s life, Todd Wilkins, moves to Vermont. While Liz is devastated, Jessica sees it as an opportunity to find her a new, cooler boyfriend. Liz starts hanging out with a dude who she has sort of put in the friend zone, but Todd comes home for a weekend and sees them together and flips out. In the end, they both decide that despite their love for each other, they should see other people. So sad.
Cover: Elizabeth crying and Todd, clad in a leather jacket, holding onto her arm consoling her.
Tagline: “Can Elizabeth survive the heartache of losing Todd?”
Why it’s awesome: Because young love can never last and when it ends, this is totally what it is supposed to look like.
#32. The New Jessica
Plot: It was totally inevitable that at some point, one of the twins would get sick of looking like the other and get a dramatic makeover. So in this book, Jessica dyes her hair dark, wears a lot of makeup, and starts acting all British and crap. She also tries to be a model, but is rejected because they like Elizabeth’s look better. So Jessica quits her new look, goes back to blonde, and the twins end up scoring a gig together.
Cover: Jessica, rocking dark locks, lots of makeup, and like, totally chic European threads with one hand on her hip and the other holding shades. Elizabeth, with her back to Jess, looks on aghast, with her mouth wide open and hand on her cheek. The horror!
Tagline: “Elizabeth’s twin has become a complete stranger!”
Why it’s awesome: Because Jessica’s new look is just SO shocking!
#48. Slam Book Fever
Plot: New girl Amy Sutton brings slam books to Sweet Valley, and everyone gets in on the craze, dropping names into categories like “Biggest Flirt” and “Couple of the Future,” which obviously ruffles feathers amongst the gang.
Cover: Amy Sutton writing furiously in a slam book, while Jessica, clad in a very fierce striped sweater, looks on with a wide, mischievous smile on her face.
Tagline: “Look what’s hit Sweet Valley!”
Why it’s awesome: This book and its perfectly illustrative cover were single-handedly responsible for the sales of thousands and thousands of black and white speckled composition books across the country. I, a total “Jessica,” attempted to start “slam book fever” at my own school, but was called into the principal’s office for stirring up trouble before an outbreak could actually take place. I blamed the book.
#63. The New Elizabeth
Plot: Now it is Elizabeth’s turn to get a makeover, 31 books after Jessica, transforming from the girl next door into a totally rad surfer girl.
Cover: Elizabeth in a sexy, hot pink and black surfer girl swimsuit holding a surfboard.
Tagline: “Elizabeth’s ready for a change!”
Why it’s awesome: Because, like, it’s totally rad dude, to see this other side of Liz.More On