Like most of Susan E. Hinton's novels, That Was Then, This is Now is set in Tulsa, Oklahoma (though, like Hinton's prior teen novel, The Outsiders, the city is never identified). It tells the story of Bryon Douglas and his best friend and foster brother, Mark. Like the main characters in The Outsiders, the two boys are greasers--poor boys from the wrong side of the tracks. Like the Curtis brothers in The Outsiders, Bryon and Mark have a rough home life and spend most of their time on the streets. With Bryon's mother in the hospital, the two underage boys are on their own, and they hang out in bars (Charley's Place) and on the strip known as The Ribbon. There is little time for school, although the two boys do attend a dance at the gym where Ponyboy Curtis (the main character of The Outsiders) also appears. Other locales include a "hippie house," where most of the inhabitants do drugs; and, later, a reform school where Mark is held.
"That was Then, This is Now" was written by the same writer as "Rumble Fish" and "The Outsiders," Hinton. The book is about the changing relationship of two male friends as one matures and the other seems to be left behind.
The story takes place in Tulsa, Oklahoma in the 1960s. It is a time when protesting against the Vietnam War was occurring and the attitude of anti-establishment was the doctrine of youth. The characters reside in a rough neighborhood. Like many of Hinton's other characters they are surrounded by the disadvantages of life such as lack of money, poor jobs, gang activity, and drugs.