In the early 90s, slightly too young to be reading them, I was obsessed with two books – the first called Dying to Win and its sequel Cross Your Heart, Hope to Die. The protagonist of the second book was, ingeniously, called Hope. They were obscure American teen-girl murder-mystery stuff but if anyone at the time asked me what my favourite books were – these were they. I wrote in my diary at the time that I hoped they might make a film version – starring me and, um, Kurt Cobain. I really did. I’m sure he would have been thrilled. I lamented this lost possibility at length in another diary entry a few months later when he died.
The books were about a Californian high school beauty contest called ‘Miss Peach Blossom’, nicknamed ‘Pretty Peggy Sue’ due to its retro-50s theme. We learn that there are four finalists – April Lovewell (saucy redhead vicar’s daughter and artistic genius), Raven Cruz (sexy political activist from a poor family), Lacey Pinkerton (beautiful, rich mean-girl) and Kiki De Santis (her charmingly downtrodden best friend). As we are reminded throughout: one of them will win – and one of them will die!
The two books I owned were the first in a series of four. The final two books – If Looks Could Kill and Jailbird eluded me, until I lost interest. I never heard of them again and was unsure whether they actually existed – perhaps the series had been abandoned halfway through, due to the fact that I was the only person who had ever heard of it. Perhaps I would never find out who killed Peggy Sue.
(Creepy side note that only just occurred to me: my schooldays boyfriend used to call me Peggy Sue. Spooky.)
Then for some reason, the series came into my head the other day and my curiosity all came flooding back. Now that the internet exists, I quickly ascertained that all four books really do exist, and I ordered the lot.
It took me most of a day to read them – in one sitting on a lovely quiet Saturday, when I barely got out of bed and consumed many snacks. It took me right back and, obviously, beyond.
Obviously the plot is super teenage (in that very specific 90s way before it became YA/crossover/cool) but, maybe due to its homage to 1950s themes, strangely timeless. The ending is ridiculous, a lot of the path to getting there is also ridiculous – I wouldn’t really recommend the series to anyone who doesn’t have a wistful nostalgia about them. All I really want to know is: does anyone remember these books other than me?