This is weird. I thought for sure I had read this book when I was a teenager, but as I started reading it, I realized it wasn’t familiar at all. The copyright date is 1998 – when I was already in college, so I obviously didn’t read it back then. But I know I read some epistolary book as a teenager, with letters between two friends. Anyone have any idea what it could be?
Anyway, this book was a joint effort between Ann M. Martin and Paula Danziger. Take a look at that cover photo. The girl on the left looks like what I imagine Ann looked like as a girl – pearls and everything. I don’t know about Paula Danziger, but check out this photo of the two authors from the back of the book:
You can tell just by looking at them that Ann wrote the Elizabeth letters and Paula wrote the Tara*Starr letters.
Elizabeth is a straight-laced, introverted bookworm with only one friend in the world, the more boisterous and fun-loving Tara-Starr. When Tara-Starr moves away, she and Elizabeth begin an epic letters-only friendship that lasts for all of seventh grade. Tara-Starr decides to rename herself Tara*Starr, and for awhile, Elizabeth plays along, renaming herself Eliza*Beth.
It’s too bad the girls no longer live near each other, because both of them are facing challenges this year like they never have before. Elizabeth has to deal with a father who is never home, drinks to much when he is, and eventually loses his $250k per year job due to downsizing. Tara*Starr not only has to deal with a new school and making new friends, but her parents (who had her as teenagers) have suddenly started acting responsibly, taking college classes, and you know, NOT losing their jobs. Oh, and eventually her mom gets pregnant.
Elizabeth fails to make new friends, so when her dad loses his job, she has no one to turn to but Tara*Starr. Tara*Starr, meanwhile, actually does make new friends at her new school, and finds a group she actually fits in with, something she’d never been able to do at her old school. She’s anxious about telling Elizabeth about all the fun she’s having, because Elizabeth is highly stressed.
Elizabeth’s dad, who by the way, makes a quarter million dollars a year as he liked to tell people frequently, spends all their money. They live in a big house, they have a housekeeper and a gardener, and he doesn’t want Elizabeth’s mom to work. All his reckless spending means that after he loses his job, there is no savings they can fall back on. They sell the big house and all their stuff at an estate sale, and move into a one-bedroom apartment. Except the day they’re set to move, the dad takes off. So Elizabeth and her younger sister move in to the apartment with just their mom, who luckily has found a decent job. It’s the end of the book before Elizabeth finally makes new friends, other kids on the school’s poetry journal, who happen to live in her new apartment complex.
Tara*Starr meanwhile takes a while to fit in at her new school, but once she discovers the drama club, she’s immediately thrilled to find a lot of friends. Including a new boyfriend who gives her her first kiss. And another boyfriend later after the first one doesn’t work out. But, her world is rocked when her mom gets pregnant. She’s an only child and that’s the way she wants it to stay. Her super laid-back parents let her get away with an attitude for a while, but even the supercool parents have a breaking point, and their’s was when Tara*Starr started calling the baby Demonseed.
The book ends with Elizabeth planning to fly out to visit Tara*Starr over the summer.
- Though this book was published in 1998, it feels very in the moment now, with Elizabeth’s dad losing his job and being forced to downsize. The cautionary tale about saving vs. spending frivolously is not exactly subtle.
- And maybe it’s because real estate is super expensive where I live, but a $600,000 dollar house for a household earning $250,000 seems reasonable to me. Isn’t the general thought that you can afford a home up to three times your income? But I guess that doesn’t account for housekeepers, cooks, and gardeners salaries.
- I have trouble believing that Elizabeth’s dad is such a villain. Yes, he spent the family into the poor house, but I have a hard time thinking irresponsible with money automatically equals abandons wife and kids. I know people who spend out of their means like her dad did. But I have to tell you, they usually believe they’re doing it for the benefit of their kids. Because they have this imaginary (and faulty) ideal about kids needing a big bedroom, separate playrooms, riding lessons, etc. Despite the fact that he was an asshole of the highest proportion (he didn’t like Tara*Starr because she grew up poor and her parents were too young), he didn’t seem like the type who didn’t give a shit about his kids.
- Oh hey, I just found out this book has a sequel, Snail Mail No More. I might check it out.
- Listen, I can do math. But it’s still weird to read a book with a twelve year old protagonist whose parents are only twenty-nine. That is some freaky shit right there.
- And of course, since Tara*Starr’s parents are supercool, super young, laid back parents, (the type to name their kid Tara-Starr) she calls them by their first names. Because why not.