The Way-Back Machine Presents: Couples
The Couples (Series) positioned itself as less campy than the vastly popular Sweet Valley High series and more authentic in its portrayals of complicated white teen romance than the far more prolific Sweet Dreams series. It also struck a balance between serialized drama (SVH) and A Plot romances (SD). While the other two collections fatuously attempted to present themselves as far more inclusive than they actually were – most notably Sweet Dreams’ The Truth About Me and Bobby V – Couples had no time for concerns other than wealthy white, brightly clothed preppies living in a fictional affluent suburb of D.C. called Rose Hill (I think).
Initially the Couples series centered around a core group of popular kids who supposedly weren’t snobs, but definitely read that way to me, named Phoebe (I used to pronounce it Phobe-Be), Brenda, Brad and whatever the heck Phobe-Be’s best friend’s name was. Maybe Kim or Carla. It was definitely some kind of 80s hot girl’s name. After awhile the series branched out to explore the lives of every side character, misfit, exchange student and visiting foxy relative – used mostly to make the core gals of the pack bitchy and jealous. Naturally these preppies never engaged in sex, drank the blues away or beat each other up over boyfriends, or if they did it happened between volumes and we were never told about it. It goes without saying that by complete erasure of anything not white, straight, able bodied, cisgendered or wealthy, they were not terribly problematic, but mostly definitely privileged to a spectacular degree. I mean I guess that’s how things go when you just pretend anyone different than you simply does not exist! There weren’t even all that sexist, since the males were interchangeable and the gals mostly just talked about themselves and what expensive colleges they hoped to attend.
The Couples series is notable for inspiring my own series of similarly themed novels – The Barrington Park Chronicles – which centered around teens of varying class status, races and – gasp – sexualities – based on my friends at the time and my limited life experiences (I was probably 13 or 14 when I started writing these). I started by creating the core characters:
Keegan Murphy (yes, they were twins)
Jamie “Jas” Jasper (who looked like Gregory Abbott and probably liked Miles Davis a lot.)
Astrid Lewis (Bash’s bff)
Maya Kim (the most popular girl in school and sometimes Basia’s rival for Jas’ attention)
Pepper Franklin – intrepid newspaper columnist who broke the textbook bribe story
Aileen Morgan – Pepper’s girlfriend (gasp. oh noes, we are all scandalized)
And these wacky kids, drank booze, partied too loud, wore sassy 80s fashions, which I described in detail, right down to the % of acid wash in the jeans. They even engaged in “heavy petting”. Scandalized! They were also smart, attractive and tropelicious in pretty much every way possible. They ran for class office, planned dances, fought over partners, sassed their parents, ditched school, drove cute cars, did charity work and sometimes learned “lessons”.
My plots were pretty tight, but my characters lacked nuance. For example, I was really great at giving Pepper interesting stories to break – man, BP was a totally scandal ridden private school – yet I didn’t know what to do with her and Aileen (modeled after two friends of mine, who were in love) except make them have long secretive discussions, kiss, cry and ignore each other in the halls, which is what their real life counterparts did for much of the 8th and 9th grade.
Even though Couples was devoid of anything approaching diversity, its pedantic writing and characters were the first time I said, “Shoot, if Linda B. Cooney can do this, so can I.” And each night after my homework I would crank up Kenny G’s Duotones cassette – cause it seemed like appropriate “writing” music and mostly had no lyrics – and I wrote myself into the YA discourse and I never looked back.
I couldn’t bring myself to post “Songbird” *shudders* Actually “What Does it Take” and “Sade” are the best cuts on Kenny G’s debut. I started playing Sax because of Kenny G; though unlike Kenny G, I was quite awful.