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The novel consists solely of letters and spans the course of seventh grade, a difficult time for both Tara and Elizabeth, particularly because they are apart from each other and can rarely communicate by telephone. Tara has moved to Ohio and is adjusting to life in a new school. Elizabeth is adjusting to life in her old school without Tara to help her through the aches and pains of her newly tumultuous home life.

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Danziger says she likes to write about school settings because all teens can relate to them. Tara speaks to Elizabeth about the different groups or cliques in her school and the girls share stories of their school experiences. But the home setting plays a large part in the novel, too. Elizabeth lives in a large, expensive house during the first part of the novel, then she moves into a small apartment after their family loses their money. Tara has always lived in a small place, as her parents are just beginning to save money to buy a house. The authors use the girls' home settings to contrast their socioeconomic status and to help define their differences as characters.

Literary Qualities

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Biographical information written about Danziger and Martin reveals that their personalities are much like the personalities of the girls they portray. It appears that developing a voice to connect to their characters came easily for both writers, then the plot simply fell into place. The first-person narrative flows easily, and the authors have no problem creating strong voices that readers can easily distinguish. Perhaps because of the spontaneity of the character's interchange, they able to carry the plot and introduce the various plot twists effectively. Suspension builds as the girls' letters get more serious and their lives and their friendship threaten to explode.

The spontaneous dialogue allows Danziger and Martin to develop a realistic account of a friendship between two adolescent girls. The authors incorporate their individual styles to create two contrasting personalities, and the letter format allows Tara and Elizabeth to define the characteristics of other people in their lives in their own words. Readers come to know the girls' parents even though these characters never speak. It is true that we only see the parents through the eyes of their children, but this allows Danziger and Martin to stress the confusion the girls feel about their relationships. The letter format also helps the authors to clarify the intensity of the girls' feelings. Letters give the authors an advantage in a way, because they know that the girls writing the letters have the opportunity to think through their thoughts more clearly than they could if they were speaking. Yet the letters are conversational and incorporate typical teenage expressions.

It is unclear whether Danziger and Martin intentionally use irony as a literary device, but certainly the adults in the novel act in ways that seem inconsistent with their images. Elizabeth's father, cast in the role of successful breadwinner, presumably acts stable and responsible but turns out to be the most irresponsible adult of all. Elizabeth's mother, who has always assumed a passive role in the family, turns out to be the one capable of taking charge and pulling it together when things get rough. Tara's parents, who were young and not emotionally prepared to have children when they did, rise to the occasion and prove capable of providing for Tara's emotional needs. Their carefree and rather unstructured lifestyle does not, as it would be easy to assume, lead them to act irresponsibly.

The authors tell their story through the protagonists' viewpoints, alternating between voices to create lively dialogue. Distinct characters emerge early in the novel as Danziger and Martin breathe life into their letters to create two vibrant individuals who appear amazingly real. Their conversations are animated and reveal familiar teen emotions. The authors have said that they began this novel by beginning to write their own letters to each other in the voices of Tara and Elizabeth. In the beginning, the writers had only a basic knowledge of the plot, then developed characters strong enough to propel the story to its conclusion. The story moves through a linear plot and letters are the only style of narration the authors use to present a situation, introduce a series of conflicts, and arrive at a resolution.

Social Sensitivity

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Tara and Elizabeth come from different socioeconomic backgrounds, and Danziger and Martin make it a point to express that these differences are not a barrier to their friendship. It is never clear why Elizabeth's father dislikes Tara, but we have to wonder whether his hostility toward her stems from her lower socioeconomic status or from Tara's rather unconventional ways. But it is Elizabeth's father's character that comes into question. We find out that he was never able to save money, relies on alcohol to escape from his financial problems, and deserts his family, leaving his wife and children to struggle with these problems alone. So Elizabeth is left to reevaluate her perceptions of him.

Elizabeth is also forced to reevaluate her perceptions of her mother. Elizabeth is proud of her mother when she takes charge of her life and gets a job to support the family. The strength of this woman is inspirational to Elizabeth, and she emerges from the ordeal feeling positive and empowered. Danziger and Martin clearly seem to be giving young girls the message that women are strong. They are capable of pulling their lives together, tapping their strengths, and doing what is necessary to get themselves back on track when things go wrong. Once Elizabeth realizes this, she is able to accept that their lifestyle will change, and she can handle it with maturity. Not that Danziger and Martin intentionally criticize men, but in this situation, the woman proves to be a source of strength and the man a model of weakness.

Tara's mother also proves to be a source of strength. Despite the fact that this woman had her daughter at the age of seventeen, she accepts responsibility, pulls her life together, and acts as a loving, available, communicative mother. Elizabeth turns to her for support. Tara trusts her opinions. This woman may have not been ready for motherhood as a teenager, but she rose to the occasion. Then she waited to have another baby until she was older, more experienced and stable, and more confident in her parenting ability.

Danziger and Martin succeed in showing empathy and sympathy for young adult problems, and they inject humor into their dialogue to make these problems seem surmountable. As mentioned previously, Danziger has been criticized for making light of serious situations, but teens do get the message that they can overcome serious difficulties. They learn that it is okay to have problems and to share their feelings about them. In this novel, Danziger and Martin cover two of the most prevalent challenges young people face today: moving from close friends and familiar surroundings and dealing with divorce. These situations trigger strong emotions and introduce major changes, and the friendship between Tara and Elizabeth weathers both. It becomes clear as the girls share their thoughts and concerns, that communication makes coping with change much easier.

For Further Reference

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 305

Authors and Artists for Young Adults, vol. 4. Detroit, Gale, 1990. A biographical essay about Paula Danziger.

Children's Books and Their Creators. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1995. Contains information about Ann M. Martin.

Children's Literature Review, vol. 20. Detroit: Gale, 1990. Contains information about Paula Danziger's books.

Comerford, Lynda Drill Lynda. "A True Test of Friendship: Epistolary Fiction Written by Ann M. Martin and Paula Danziger." Publishers Weekly (March 9, 1998): 26. An article about the challenges of coauthoring books.

Contemporary Authors, vol. 115. Detroit: Gale, 1985. A biographical essay detailing Paula Danziger's life and work.

Contemporary Authors, New Revision Series, vol. 32. Detroit: Gale, 1991. A biographical essay detailing Ann M. Martin's life and work.

Contemporary Literary Criticism, vol. 21. Detroit: Gale, 1982. A compilation of reviews relating to Paula Danziger's work.

Elders, Ann. Review of P.S. Longer Letter Later. School Library Journal (July 1999): 54.

Koertge, Ron. "Please Mr. Postman." New York Times Book Review (May 17, 1998): 27. A review of P. S. Longer Letter Later.

Krull, Kathleen. Presenting Paula Danziger. New York: Twayne, 1995. An in-depth look at Paula Danziger and her writing.

Nilsen, Alleen Pace and Kenneth L. Donelson. Literature for Today's Young Adults. Second edition. Scott, Foresman, 1985. Contains a discussion of Paula Danziger's books.

The One Hundred Most Popular Young Adult Authors. Englewood, CO: libraries Unlimited, 1996. Discusses Ann M. Martin.

Review of P.S. Longer Letter Later. Publishers Weekly (June 7,1999): 53.

Rochman, Hazel. Review of P.S. Longer Letter Later. Booklist (June 1,1998): 1765.

Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature, 1975-1991. Detroit: Gale, 1992. An essay about Ann M. Martin's work.

Something about the Author, vol.70. Detroit: Gale, 1993. A biographical essay about Ann M. Martin and her books.

Something about the Author, vol. 102. Detroit: Gale, 1999. A biographical essay about Paula Danziger and her writing.

Steinberg, Renee. Review of P. S. Longer Letter Later. School Library Journal (May 1998): 141.

Twentieth-Century Young Adult Writers. First edition. Detroit: St. James Press, 1994. An essay about Paula Danziger's life.

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