Monday, December 30, 2019

The Problem with the Sweet Dreams Series

I loved Sweet Valley High as a teen.  On the other hand, I only read a total of three books from the Wildfire and Sweet Dreams series combined.  I recall that I did enjoy the few Wildfire and Sweet Dreams books that I read.

Around two to three years ago, I purchased a handful of Wildfire and Sweet Dreams books with the idea of building a set of each.  I wasn't very compelled to do so.  In early 2019, I read a few of the Wildfire Romance books and liked them a lot.  I then built a set of the Wildfire Romance books and began reading them in order.  I enjoyed more of the books than not, at least for the early books in the set.

Since I was enjoying the Wildfire Romance books, I became serious about building the Sweet Dreams set, although I still had reservations for an indefinite reason.  I ended up purchasing most of the Sweet Dreams books.  I did not purchase all of the books, due to some extreme prices.  Most all of the Wildfire Romance books can be found for reasonable prices, but some Sweet Dreams books are priced rather high.  I very much doubt that many people ever pay the high-end prices.

After I read through the entire Wildfire Romance set earlier this year, I began the Sweet Dreams set.  I found most of the first 20 books to be difficult to enjoy, so I became disgusted and quit.  I was burned out from having just read 82 Wildfire Romance books, and I needed a break.

Months passed, and in August, I decided to force myself to read books that I had not gotten around to reading.  I read or attempted to read Marjorie Dean, Grace Harlowe, Bob Dexter, Lakewood Boys, and books by Helen Girvan.  Finally, I was back to Sweet Dreams.

I started where I left off and ended up skipping over several books.  Finally, I found a book that I liked enough to read most all of it, although I was still not overly impressed by the story.  I tried to determine why I was having so much trouble with the books, when other people like them just fine.  I love Sweet Valley High.  Many of the Sweet Dreams books are not for me, but I do like some of them a lot.  What is the problem with the rest of the books?

While we all like varying types of books, people who like Sweet Valley High tend to like Wildfire Romance and Sweet Dreams books as well.  All three series had the same target audience, which was me and my peers during the 1980s.  All three series focus on romance and relationships.

I will always like Sweet Valley High the best.  I glanced over my Sweet Valley High reviews.  Many of the SVH books have not held up well, and I do not like them anywhere near as much as I did as a teen.  Still, I consider 50% to 60% of the canon books (#1-94) to be very good or better.  For the entire set of 82 Wildfire books, I find 42.7% to be very good or better.  For the first 41 Sweet Dreams books, I find 37.5% to be very good or better.  I like Sweet Dreams the least of the three sets.

The covers of the Wildfire Romance books and the Sweet Dreams books are practically the same.  Both series feature cute girls in different poses with catchy, often silly titles.  The books themselves are eye candy for Gen-Xers.

After I began reading the Sweet Dreams books again, I finally figured out several important reasons why I have such a problem with so many of the books.  One reason is that I have no patience for protagonists who are complete idiots. Some of the girls are too stupid for words.  It should be noted that this is also true for some of the Wildfire Romance protagonists, and those are the Wildfire books that I do not like.

One of the reasons I loved Sweet Valley High so much was that I always related to Elizabeth, and she has common sense.  Since I could relate to her, I was able to find the foolish decisions of Jessica and others to be entertaining to read.  With the Sweet Dreams books, the stupidity of the protagonist is often too much for me, since I just want to slap common sense into the character.  In the Sweet Valley High books, Elizabeth is the equalizer, and she gives the reader much-needed common sense.

I also want a book that isn't just about chasing a boy solely for the sake of having a boyfriend.  The girls who are chasing boys for that reason just want a boyfriend because all the other girls have a boyfriend.  I find that kind of story to be boring.  The books that are just about the chase or are full of silliness are not for me.  The girl needs to have some kind of struggle above and beyond the need for a boyfriend, or she already has a boyfriend but she has very real concerns about the relationship.  The Wildfire Romance books tend to feature a protagonist with a real problem.

I struggle with many of the Sweet Dreams books because the protagonist is stupid or because she wants a boyfriend for superficial reasons.  I also struggle with the books where the girl already likes a certain boy at the beginning of the story, but the author does nothing to cause the reader to feel the same way about the boy.  If I do not feel something as a reader, then I cannot read the book.

Another problem with many of these books is that the authors fail to hook the reader quickly.  They feel like they should tell the reader the girl's entire life story, usually in a boring fashion.  I have to give the books a fair shot, so I have to get past the expository information, which often lasts for far longer than it should.  Once I get past all of that, I can figure out if the story is worth reading.  This gets exhausting when I find that many of the books are not interesting to me.

You might wonder why I bother.  I try to read at least one-third of each book because I do love this genre and some books are truly excellent.  I don't want to miss out on those books, but it's so difficult having to try the rest of the books in order to find the excellent ones.

I have read or attempted to read 41 of the Sweet Dreams books.  I first broke off at around #20 or so.  I recently resumed reading the books after skipping certain titles due to disinterest.  I was doing okay but nearly bailed again at #35.  I got started again, but then found more books that I could not read.

I wrote reviews of the early Sweet Dreams titles back in April and May, and I held off on publishing them hoping I could resume reading the books.  Even though I have resumed reading the books, I am about played out for this second phase in reading them.  I should just try to read a dozen or so every few months. Eventually, I would get through the set.  Even though I'm not going to be able to go through the entire Sweet Dreams set at this time, I will now begin to release the reviews that I have prepared so far.

A list of all Sweet Dreams titles can be found here.

1 comment:

A said...

I think the Sweet Dreams books are much more a product of their time. They were just kind of comfy, beach reads. The older I got, the more difficult it is to enjoy those type of books. It's a very early teen, simple lifestyle. Wanting a boyfriend solely for the reason because as a teenager, you wanted a boyfriend; liking someone because they are cute or something equally superficial. And the more simpler times allowed for that kind of books. The further away from that time, the older you get, the more difficult they are to read to me. It almost seems too bubblegum or quaint. Even teen books from older eras had at least some actual hardship or something. Sweet Dreams have more innocuous plots and characters. Being self contained also might contribute not really being able to explore characterization that much. While not as exciting, sometimes it's nice to get the atmosphere of what it was like to be an average teen in the 80's - homework, sports, trying to get a guy to like you, and a little light hardship which seemed like the end of the world to you but as you get older realize was really nothing.