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Literature / Pen Pals

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Pen Pals was a short-running late '80s/early '90s girls' series by Sharon Dennis Wyeth about four adolescent girls rooming together in an all-girls boarding school in rural New Hampshire. Desperate to find a way to meet some boys, they advertise in the school paper for boy penpals. The series details the girls' relationships with these boys, one another, other classmates, teacher and family members.


The main characters

  • Lisa Mc Greevy - Pennsylvania native whose parents are divorced; came to boarding school because her mother had once attended
  • Shanon Davis - local girl from a poor family whose academic brilliance landed her a scholarship at the prestigious school
  • Amy Ho - Asian-American punk rocker and songwriter, born in Taiwan but raised in New York City
  • Palmer Durand - snobby rich blonde from Florida, also with divorced and emotionally distant parents
  • Maxine "Max" Schloss - replaces Lisa after she decides to return home to be with her mother; child of a rich and famous comedian, yet down-to-earth and tries to hide her family connections

Recurring secondary characters

  • Rob - Lisa's penpal; an all-around nice guy
  • Mars (Arthur) Martinez - Shanon's penpal; a goofy guy full of crazy schemes who is also intensely loyal and caring
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  • John Adams - a shy, poetic boy who is initially Palmer's penpal but later ends up Amy's
  • Paul Grant - Max's penpal; just as shy and awkward as she is, although they clearly like one another
  • Miss Prynn - the school's headmistress
  • Maggie Grayson and Dan Griffith - two of the younger teachers, who are very popular among the students; they eventually marry
  • Georgette Durand - Palmer's younger stepsister, who later attends the school; Palmer finds her annoying, although to the amusement of others, the two are very much alike
  • Kate - an older girl who is idolized by Shanon, yet thought to be a nerd by the others


The books provide examples of:

  • Adults Are Useless: Like most books in the genre, this series has the main characters running around doing just about everything on their own.
  • Alpha Bitch: Palmer, about 90% of the time
  • Annoying Younger Sibling: Georgette, for Palmer. Hilariously, most of the annoying things that Palmer complains about Georgette doing are actually things she herself does.
  • Asian Airhead: Averted. Amy is pretty smart, constantly making witty remarks and writing her own songs.
  • Bookworm: Shanon
  • Class Trip: Many, just like most other girls' series in this genre
  • Costume Porn: Pretty much every book. It's a general shangri-la of hideous early '90s tween fashions.
  • Daddy Didn't Show: Palmer. Her divorced parents shower her with money and gifts, but are never really involved in her life.
  • Do Not Call Me "Paul": Maxie HATES being called Maxine.
  • Everyone Loves Blondes: Both Palmer and her stepsister Georgette are blonde, and Shanon has hair so light brown as to be technically dark blonde as well.
  • Food Porn: Creeps in here and there, as the girls go on late-night junk food binges
  • Four-Girl Ensemble: Lisa, Shanon, Amy and Palmer in the early books, then Max and the other girls
  • I Am Not Pretty: Shanon, who is often self-conscious because she's the one poor local among the rich students
  • Naïve Everygirl: Shanon
  • Not Allowed to Grow Up: Averted. Between the first and last book, the girls have progressed three grades.
  • Off to Boarding School: Everyone, obviously.
  • Official Couple: Shanon and Mars, despite the odds, are actually the only two penpals to stick together through the entire series. By the final book, when everyone is a bit older, it's pretty clearly hinted that the two have a strong romantic attachment.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Mars, whose real name is Arthur Martinez
  • Scholarship Student: Shanon. She's the only one who has to work a student job, and who worries about affording trips and clothes.
  • School Play: Another opportunity for the girls to spend time with the boys, naturally
  • Shrinking Violet: Shanon, quite often
  • Sibling Yin-Yang: Lisa and her nerdy older brother Reggie at the boys' school
  • Snooping Little Kid: Palmer's younger stepsister Georgette, in the later books
  • Summer Campy: In the second to last book, both schools attend a summer camp together.
  • Technology Marches On: In one book, Shanon sneaks into the newspaper office in order to instant message with Amy's penpal John, a member of the newspaper at the boys' school, in order to get information about another roommate's penpal. Much is made of this newfangled technology.