Themes and Characters
Maggie Tobin is a plump, somewhat unattractive girl with little self-confidence, particularly in relationships with boys. Her best friend, Liz Carstensen, represents all that Maggie would like to be: attractive, articulate, and confident. But Liz is afraid of and disgusted by her stepfather and has no rapport with her mother, who has submerged her own personality in order to live in peace with her husband. Liz's mother constantly harasses her about dating the right kind of boy, while her stepfather barrages her with a daunting stream of verbal abuse. His excessive concern with Liz's sexual activity arouses suspicion of his own sexual interest in her. Liz's boyfriend, Sean Collins, must also weather parental disapproval. Sean's father is a macho male stereotype who cannot understand a son who prefers creative writing to football. Sean's alienation from his father extends to his relationship with society in general. He sees no good in anyone but Liz, and at various times in the past he has seriously contemplated suicide, even calculating how fast his head would fly off if he shot himself. Sean's buddy Dennis Holowitz is selfconscious, shy, and acutely embarrassed about his personal appearance. In Maggie's words, he is somewhat "weird-looking ... like an undernourished zucchini." Dennis also experiences a typical inability to communicate with his parents.
All four teenagers mature sexually and emotionally during their senior year. Maggie and Dennis become a couple, first because Liz and Sean push them into dating, but eventually because they truly like each other. Maggie loses weight, learns to control her wispy hair so that it no longer looks like "thin fungus," and begins to think of herself as a normal human being. Dennis's body begins to fill out, and he learns to minimize his ungainly height so that he looks less like a human erector set. His friendship with Maggie encourages his self-confidence. Unfortunately for Dennis and Maggie, their growing relationship ends abruptly because of complications in the more intense relationship between Sean and Liz.
Zindel explores the consequences of premarital sex through Liz and Sean's relationship. When the novel begins, Liz is already fending off Sean's hands and his assertion that sex is natural because "we love each other, don't we?" Liz's unwillingness to have intercourse temporarily ends their relationship. Parental difficulties further estrange the couple: Liz's mother praises her for realizing that Sean is not good enough for her, while Sean's father intercepts Liz's letter of apology. Seeking to make Sean jealous, Liz deliberately throws herself at the good-looking Rod, who once deserted a girl who was pregnant with his child. Maggie's timely intercession with Sean, Sean's rescue of Liz when Rod nearly rapes her, and Liz's anger with her stepfather's unwarranted accusation of sexual promiscuity lead Liz and Sean to a physical expression of their love.
Two months before graduation Liz becomes pregnant. When Liz first tells Sean, he is shocked, but says that he loves her and is willing to accept his responsibility. All too soon, however, Sean is racked by second thoughts, for he realizes that marriage will ruin his chances for college and a career. Approaching his father under the pretext of inquiring for a friend, Sean receives the advice that he does not, and yet does,...
(The entire section is 838 words.)