Each volume in the Sweet Valley High series began with a formulaic blazon: identical twins Jessica and Elizabeth have “sun-streaked blond hair, blue-green eyes, and perfect size-six figures.” Barring the occasional kerfuffle over a suitor or a student council election, the world swoons before their flawlessness. In Marcy Dermansky’s novel, Twins, we meet similar sisters. Sue and Chloe share good skin, slender figures, and golden locks. But in the 21 years since SVH debuted, fictional gorgeous twins have acquired a fearsome host of modern ills: pill habits, self-injury, bulimia, a penchant for juggling. In alternating chapters, the twins narrate their junior high and high school years, describing their progress along lines that aren’t at all parallel. Unstable Sue thinks she’ll die should she and Chloe drift apart at all; suffocated Chloe longs for a room of her own.
While some events ring false, Dermansky excels at depicting extreme emotional states and how we rationalize them. Sue narrates once such bit of perfectly sensible illogic: “Chloe was four minutes older. …She was smarter. She was prettier. We were identical twins, but Chloe had turned out better.” The novel palls as the twins age, however, and the crises progress from internal and imagined to actual. Lesbianism? Absentee parents? Whatever would Jessica and Elizabeth do?