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...
(The entire section is 838 words.)