Nigerian-born Bim Adewunmi fell in love as a teenager with the characters and California milieu of the (My god! there were nowhere nearly that many Hardy boys books.) 181-volume young adult series Sweet Valley High.
Last night I dreamt I went to Sweet Valley again.
I dreamt I went to high school with Bruce Patman, Lila Fowler, Todd Wilkins, and of course, the most important fictional twins of my young life, Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield. I dreamt I knew those twins â€” identical in every way, right down to their perfect size-six figures, honey-blonde hair, and aquamarine eyes. At one point in my life, I thought about these twins and the assorted all-American boys and girls that made up their high school class as often as I did anything of significance in life. The novelistic tales of the Wakefields and their frenemies, pals, and rivals were interwoven with the fabric of my own real life in a way that felt close to irreversible. My school transcripts might suggest otherwise, but I know in my heart that I attended Sweet Valley High.
For those who werenâ€™t there, or choose not to remember, Sweet Valley was the fictional town created by New York author Francine Pascal (now 80), and the setting for a series of young adult books that shook the world for generations of readers. The first of what would go on to expand to 181 books was published when I was barely a year old, in 1983, but I know that when I first got my hands on them, a decade later, everything still felt fresh, exciting, and, oddly enough, very relatable.
In the Wakefield twins â€” perpetually 16 years old or thereabouts â€” I found a sort of kinship. These blondes were as familiar to me as any single one of my friends at my all-girls boarding school in the southern Nigerian city of Sagamu, one state over from our home in Lagos. I knew them intimately and could probably have picked them out in a crowd of similarly blonde and peppy Californian teenagers with no difficulty. The sun beating over my head was a few time zones and thousands of miles away, but it was the same sun. And most days that was enough.
I can understand. When I was in elementary school, I absolutely loved the Rick Brant Science Adventure series. Who would not, as a small boy, want to live on an island, have access to a laboratory, get to help adult scientists, and own his own airplane?