When I was ten, my family moved to the Lone Star State. For a Yankee girl like myself, the transition was anything but smooth. My clothes were wrong, my accent sounded foreign to the kids at school and I missed my friends terribly. Throw in glasses, braces and a wicked case of acne and, well, let’s just say fifth grade was not my favorite year in school.
My only solace during that tough time was books, specifically books that arrived to my mailbox via a book of the month club for kids. Every month, two hard cover books would arrive to my mailbox and it was as if a salve had been applied to my homesick heart. I’d run inside the house, throw my book bag down and immediately flop onto the couch so I could devour the next round of books.
And that’s how I “met” Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield.
If you were a young girl in the late 80s, chances are, you read the Sweet Valley High book series. The series centered around sixteen year old blonde twins Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield and their adventures at Sweet Valley High. The books were cheesy, formulaic and predictable and I couldn’t get enough of them. Every book contained the same description within the first few pages of the book, say it with me, “perfect size 6 figures, heart-shaped faces, wavy blonde hair, and sparkling blue eyes,” and though the plot lines were outrageous, the series was beloved by millions of little girls like me. And thirty years later, I still have a crush on Todd Wilkins. There, I said it.
Though the books were trite, Elizabeth and Jessica saved me. Truly. The Wakefield sisters, Judy Blume characters and Ramona Quimby were my dearest friends during my fifth grade year. In fact, I don’t think I could have found better friends when I needed them most.
Years later, after I had been freelancing for several years, I wrote a piece for Scary Mommy where I mused about what the Wakefield twins were doing now. Were they forty and fabulous? Of course they were. And that cad Bruce Patman got fat, undoubtedly. The post was unexpectedly popular because, it seems, I’m not the only one who spent time in the hallowed halls of Sweet Valley High.
Now, this is the part of the story where I’m about to blow your mind. Stay with me…..
About three months ago, I started working with an amazing all women writers collective as their social media manager. (Seriously, go check out the Tall Poppy Writers, you won’t be disappointed). As I was curating content for their Facebook page, I decided to share my Sweet Valley post, figuring that their demographic would like the story, too.
Wait for it, I’m about to get to the good part….
One of the writers posted in their Facebook group about how much they loved my post. Several of us reminisced about Sweet Valley high, the story lines and the characters. And then…
…one of the writers mentioned that Tall Poppy Writer Eileen Goudge had ghostwritten the first six books of the Sweet Valley Series. Oh, and sorry to burst your bubble if you thought Francine Pascal actually wrote all the books.
I’ll repeat this slowly as you process:
The author of the books that saved me was now kind of, sort of, technically, pretty much ONE OF MY NEW BOSSES.
As I processed and took this information in, I did what every self respecting, professional writer would do: I completely and utterly lost my shit. Through ugly cry tears, I typed what I hoped was a coherent comment under the Facebook post but it pretty much came out like fan girl verbal diarrhea. “OMG I LOVE YOUR BOOKS AND OMG YOU ARE MY HERO AND OMG I CAN’T BELIVE THIS AND OMG” was what I believe I actually typed.
But, wait. THERE’S MORE.
Eileen in her graciousness not only tolerated my verbal diarrhea, but she INVITED ME TO HER NEW YORK APARTMENT SO WE COULD MEET.
As I sat in her gorgeously appointed NYC apartment, my fifth grade self couldn’t contain my gratitude. As I listened to her detail how she came to be a ghostwriter and the story behind the book series, all I could do was shake my head in wonder. Eileen spent two hours with me on a cold April afternoon and it is the highlight of my unlikely writing career.
If that 10 year old girl had any idea that she’d be sitting in a NYC high rise with the author who wrote the Sweet Valley Books….no, wait. I’m glad she didn’t. Because this life twist was worth the thirty year wait.
I know, I know, you are sobbing and crying and you just turned to the guy next to you on the subway and told him you love him because the world is smaller than we think, right?
Because Eileen is the kind of human who takes it upon herself to heal a stranger’s fifth grade woes from thirty years ago, she sent me an unexpected gift.
One that, when I opened her email and realized what she had done, I ugly cried so hard that I had to sit down and gulp for air.
Eileen wrote me a chapter of Sweet Valley High.
And she made me a character that was about to become friends with Jessica and Elizabeth.
I’m crying again, just thinking about how much her kindness meant to me and how overwhelming it is to realize that your actions really do have an effect on other people. Though it may take thirty years for you to realize that you’ve made an impact, every kindness you put into the world has meaning.
And, when I watch 12 year old Fruit Loop #2 fall in love with the characters in her books, I can’t help but wonder what author will serve her homemade lemon cake and tell her stories thirty years from now, too.