Pen Pals: Boys Wanted!

I used to have such a fetish for boarding schools. I always wished I could attend one but as a preteen I was too scared to leave home. (And after reading Prep, I am glad I did not go.) Who am I kidding? I still am kind of obsessed with boarding schools. Despite the issues of privilege and access and class. After I graduated college, I worked and taught at Phillips Academy Andover and it was so fricking awesome. I’m forgetting that it was the same place that begat our president. Anyway, you can then imagine how much I lurrrvvvved this series. Reading it again totally gave me the warm squishies and longing for boarding school.

Well, let’s get the background stuff settled. There are 4 girls in their first year of school at the Alma Stephens School for Girls in New Hampshire. They are:

  • Shanon Davis” One “n”. That always annoyed me. She’s the token scholarship girl and kind of the killjoy.
  • Lisa McGreevy- the token I don’t know what. Ordinary girl?
  • Amy Ho: the token student of color- Chinese-American and from NYC. Is funky and plays the guitar. Plays the “funky Asian” first originated by Claudia Kishi.
  • Palmer Durand: from Palm Beach, FL. What is with the name? It’s like if my parents were to name me Long Islander. Think Jessica Wakefield and Lila Fowler combined into one character.

Shanon really wants to write for the school paper. So the older editor makes her a gofer. As in, makes her sweep the floor and get coffee. And she does it. Amy tried out for chorus but gets kicked out because she can’t read music. Palmer basically hates everyone and is judgemental and bitchy. They all kvetch about being at an all-girls school and they come up with the idea of advetising for boy pen pals at Ardsley Academy, an all-boys boarding school conveniently located nearby.

Writing to boys cute idea, of course shows the age of it, because if this happened now they would be posting naked pics of themselves on myspace and meeting up in TGIF restrooms to do it. They send out an ad, calling themselves the Foxes of the Third Dimension and finally get a suite over at Ardsley who call themselves the Unknown.

They almost get in trouble with the headmistress, Miss Pryn , thinks it’s an underground sorority prank. I feel like every headmistress character is named Miss Pryn. Finally she says something like, there’s nothing wrong with some old-fashioned letter-writing. Amen!

When I first remembered these, I expected them to be kind of shallow because it revolves round boys, and yes it does, but I think the message is way better. Obviously, they are getting to know the boys and lerning about ech other’s interests and insides (not like that, you perv). The boys seem pretty cute, and seriously very mature for thirteen year olds.

ALTHOUGH reading the letters they send back and forth made me physically cringe. Well, they ARE only thirteen. John writes really bad poetry and Palmer is really mean to him. He’s a redhead with big muscles (oooooh, me likey the redheads). I pictured him as Prince Harry. Minus the nazi costume. Rob Williams is Lisa’s pen pal, and apparently he’s the athletic type. Shanon has some guy named Mars who is basically a tool. Amy gets the infamous Simmie Randolph the Third. Think Bruce Patman. But dumber.

Shanon in her letter to Mars:

P.S. If I were a flower I’d be a petunia, and if I were a piece of music I’d be “The Star-Spangled Banner”. Isn’t that a riot?

No, Shanon, it’s really not.

John sends Palmer this poem:

This arch age
Over the mushroom sky
Roars with muzzled discontent
Tricked by rates of percentage
Until we are mortgaged
Ragged souls, sons of
Energy Wasted, spilled in the
Deep Ocean, but not deep enough

And it’s an acristic for TORTURED. Someone refer this boy to the counseling center.

They all decide to send pics so they take polaroids, but Shaonon has a zit so at the last minute she sends a pic of her older sister instead. Shanon’s insecurity and low self-esteem gets old really quick. So when they realize they are having a Halloween mixer, she gets nervous and decides to dress as an astronaut she Mars can’t see her face. When they meet up he thinks Shanon is playing a joke on him, so Shanon cried and mopes some more. Whatevs.

Well, finally they make up and decide to write more. This is the start of a beautiful friendship! Until Palmer screws them over about a billion times.

Ah, now the cover. I worked hard to find a pic that had detail, because the clothing is AWESOME. Sorry, that was the best one I could find.

Firstly Palmer: what is with the look on her face? Is she weating a SILK CAPE? Next, Amy Ho, who idolized Joan Jett. Noyce leggings. Shanon has on those brown leather lace-up boots that were ALL THE RAGE I had a pair, I thought I was awesome. They are kind of hard to exlain, they were like army boots but feminine. Ok, and Lisa has a shirt with her name on it. Wha? I had one with my name in puffy paint, but I was eight. I made it at a spin-art brthday party. Plus her shoes- I SWEAR THEY ARE PUNKY BREWSTER SHOES! I had a pair. Anyone else?

They also wear a bike pants. A. Lot. At school they need to wear conservative skirts and blouses, but in their dorm they can just go crazy!

The bike pants Lisa had chosen for herself were hot pink; her bright orange turtleneck sweater decorated with hot-pink sequins was set off by a long purple muffler wrapped several times around her neck; her dark hair was swept up on one side with a pink plastic comb. Amy had traded in her clunky shoes for some black cowboy boots with gold tips; she was wearing a black body suit and a Grateful Dead t-shirt. Palmer was dressed like a naturalist in a tweed pants suit, wide-brimmed hat, rubber-soled oxfords.

Lisa is auditioning for the Ice Capades. And Palmer is 62 years old.

I am kind of jealous. A part of me wishes I went to Alma Stephens.

37 thoughts on “Pen Pals: Boys Wanted!

  1. Eliza says:

    Oh, I picked up a copy of Sealed With a Kiss (Pen Pals #8) from the library yesterday. I meant to get the first one but I reserved it on accident instead. It’s cool, because SWAK (heh) is the one where they are in a play called Everypeople.

    You left out the part about how there was a send in coupon in the back to get your own pen pal. I got three that way.

  2. danae1 says:

    Oh. My God. I had this book and I thought I had erased it all from my psyche. I remembered I wanted to be funky and Asian after reading this for some reason. And bless you for using the word kvetch.

  3. Merrie says:

    I was all about the boarding school envy, too. I actually applied and got accepted to a school in Pennsylvania. The parents thought I was kidding. When I received the acceptance letter, they made me decline. So much for showing initiative.

  4. Club X says:

    Ihatewheat…I didn’t know you were from Long Island. I am also…still here, as a matter of fact! I grew up in Ronkonkoma and am now living in Oakdale.
    Growing up on Long Island always made me envy all the SVHers and their damn year round SoCal sunshine.

  5. Jess says:

    I blame these books for making me want to go to boarding school. So I did the Shanon thing and applied for a scholarship…and yeah, it was way less Pen Pals, way more Prep.

    Thanks for ruining my high school experience, Pen Pals.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Yet another book that I had blocked from my conscious memory! I’m new to the blog but do believe someone stole my book collection, circa 1989, and sent it to you to read. Sad, very sad.
    I too had the unnatural obsession with boarding school. Probably because I hated my brother, oh and my junior high was a revamped army base so I used to think it would be cool if they made it into a boarding school. With horses. And redug the pool. Mind you, this is in the middle of California where very few people could afford boarding school.
    And now, overwhelmed by my former lameness I will try to remember something, anything I learned in college.

  7. Robyn says:

    I begged my mom to send me to boarding school, but she couldn’t affor and it and unfortunately I was not quite special enough for a scholoarship. I was bitter for years over this.

    But years later I met a girl who went to the boarding school that I wanted to go and it sounded like an insane version of Prep. So I finally let go of my boarding school bitterness…

  8. Clancy says:

    Oh, also, I left another comment in a different post, but I wonder if it went into a spam moderation queue; I had several URLs to show you, which is why I think WordPress may have flagged it.

  9. Jennifer says:

    I will be funky and Asian in my next life. I have determined this.

    I can’t believe I remember what “Foxes of the Third Dimension” even meant (their building and suite #). Hah.

    Didn’t Palmer and Amy switch so Palmer could have the preppie of her dreams?

  10. Eli says:

    Clancy–as soon as I read the part about the boarding school love I immediately thought about the Girls of Canby Hall series. LOVE.

  11. Stacie says:

    When I saw this was on your list of upcoming reads (and I just found this blog last week through a comment on the bsc headquarters blog) — I was pumped! I LOVED the Pen Pals series. 🙂

  12. Kimberly says:

    Girls of Canby Hall! I loved those books. And yes, they made me want to go to boarding school. Though my parents weren’t in the socioeconomic group that sent their kids to boarding school, unfortunately.

    I never read this series, but now I’m sorry that I missed it. Those letters are great!

  13. kiwimusume says:

    Anyone else read Enid Blyton’s St Clares and Malory Towers series? Or any Brits who read Bunty comics? Those made me think it’d be super duper kewl to go to boarding school, but I never did anything about it.

    And all you guys talking about Prep made me go read a sample of it online, which has made me go buy it from Thriftbooks. ^_^;;

  14. Merrie says:

    kiwimusume, you’ll be happy tou bought Prep. It was a book I debated over for months, but the cover kept drawing me in and I finally caved. So, so glad I did!

  15. Jessa Fields says:

    Re: “Prep” — you should try Curtis Sittenfeld’s other book as well, “The Man of My Dreams”. It’s not as good as “Prep” but it’s still excellent.

    And I loved Girls of Canby Hall. Between that and “The Facts of Life” I thought an all-girls boarding school was pretty much the best idea ever.

  16. Caroline says:

    OH MY GOD! I have been wracking my brain for YEARS, trying to remember this series of books! I am so, so, SO happy you wrote this entry. Thank you!

  17. kiwimusume says:

    Oh God. I accompanied my students to the state English recitation finals, and I was totally rooting for this one private school student in one of the other categories, partly because her English was amazing and she could carry on a conversation beyond “imfinethankyouandyou”, partly because she had a wicked cute uniform (and if you think that’s on the Mr Collins side you should have seen some of the other ALTs touching their students O_o) but mainly because she set off that old boarding/private school fetish that this blog brought to the surface last night. *blushes* I am a sad, sad person. ^_^;; (She won, by the way.)

    • Aman says:

      sakayliybelr on August 24, 2011 I just pre-ordered Little Big Planet 2 and Batman Arkham 2 from Amazon. And I got them for FREE! Just went to and clicked on the free ps3 banner, Sign up and fill out a couple of surveys. I thought it was a scam, But I got 2 ps3 games now for free to show for it.

  18. ainoviere says:

    I remember this series as if it were yesterday, particularly feeling hungry every time they ordered a gooey pizza…

    I think Lisa is like a non-tomboyish Kristy Thomas; confident, bossy and a born leader. And Shanon was like Mary Anne. Their dynamic was similar to that in the BSC. If I recall correctly, there was one book where Shanon is “tired of being in Lisa’s shadow” and does decides to do “crazy” things like try out for a school play or something equally as wild.

    Thanks for the memories ihatewheat! It’s amazing you have the time and can maintain the interest to constantly keep this blog updated.

  19. ihatewheat says:

    yea, and Amy is OBVS Claudia, and I guess Palmer is a little Sracey-ish? Except Palm and Amy hate each other. I guess that is the teen character archetype- the bossy one, the sheltered one, the “ethnic” one, and the glamorous boy-crazy one.

  20. Roxy says:

    Wheat, did you ever read the Camp Sunnydale series? It was about a group of girls who went to camp together (duh). There was quite a cast of stereotypes, including the fat, bookish one, the shy one, and the slutty one they all hated. I think there was a witch in one of the books too.
    They also did a Winter Special in which they all reunited at the narrator’s house on [s]Christmas[/s] Nondenominational Winter Holiday.

  21. Lauren says:

    I loved hating the Pen Pals girls and I LOVED the Camp Sunnyside books! The Camp Sunnyside author wrote another completely improbable series called “Three of a Kind” about three thirteen-year-old girls who have nothing in common but get adopted by the same folksy New England couple and have to become sisters.

    I have a Pen Pals book–later in the series, I think–that involves them planning a super secret group date to some celebrity’s unoccupied mansion. Palmer pretends she knows the celebrity and throws a pool party or something like that. It was crazy.

  22. kiki says:

    anyone else remember when amy suggested to shanon that she be a refridgerator for the halloween dance? she could put her head in a cereal box on top of the fridge??? I was so inspired but never could pull it together 😦

  23. Jules says:

    Okay maybe u can help… what was the book where there was a girls camp and one girl had paint stuck to her hands so she wore gloves, and later in the book some mean girls gave this other girl a sweater for her birthday – the sweater had a bumblebee design but a real bee inside it (yeah they were nastee girls!)

    was that camp sunnydale????

  24. Nathalie says:

    Clancy & Kimberly,
    Oh my gosh, I remember Girls of Canby Hall. I thought no one else read those but me. I liked them way more than SVH, but not as much as SVT or BSC.
    Dairiburger should totally review Girls of Canby Hall.
    Speking of boarding school stories, anyone else read the Satin Slippers series about girls at a ballet academy? Loved it!

  25. Nathalie says:

    Oh my god I just saw Canby Hall Roomates is in the upcoming list. Yay! Thank you so much. Now how about some love for Satin Slippers or Saddle Club.

  26. jane says:

    Canby Hall and Satin Slippers… wow. I haven’t thought of them in forever and now I absolutely must reread those books.

  27. Naomi says:

    Oh, Sharon’s boots, I had a pair like that I wore to school every day in the eighth grade. I also had a similar pair that was made from purple suede…the shame, the horror. When I wore the purple ones to school I was actually called up by the uniform police, yes, we had the uniform police at our school (it was an Australian school, everyone has to wear uniforms in Australia) who was a bitter old english teacher who had no sense of fashion. I was called up by her every week after assembly. She didn’t understand our family didn’t have much money so I was stuck wearing the purple shoes until they wore out and I needed new ones.

    I loved the Pen Pals books, actually any teen series did it for me when I was young. Although the Pen Pals series was a little dull, it did seem the best written compared to the other series. However, Palmer was a raging b*tch. No redeeming features with her. I’d call her a sociopath but she lacked the IQ points, she was more like a two year old in a 13 year olds body without a conscience. And how could anyone find Sammie the least bit appealing? Him and Zap Brannigan from Futurama are long lost twins.

    LOVE this site.

  28. Moggie says:

    holy crap! I remember this series, I’m glad to see I wasn’t the only person with a thing for boarding schools. I remember picking it up when I was a kid because of the colourful cover. Fluro was my thing when i was in primary school. I loved it so much, i collected the first couple, but they were pretty hard to find from memory….
    Didn’t Palmer have the neglected rich kid from a broken family thing going on that made her act like a total bitch to everyone else? Or am I thinking of a different series (cos let’s face it, there wasn’t exactly a lot of variation in stereotypes in these series.)?
    Also, can you do recaps of the gymnasts? I was totally obsessed with those books. I wonder what reading them now would be like?

  29. Krysten says:

    I remember those stupid boots! Why we thought that was attractive. And then shoes with the ties you did the spiral thing to, but never actually tied…memories.

    I remember wanting to go to boarding school too, but Satin Slippers kind of cured me of that. It seemed lonely and depressing then.

  30. al says:

    wow this brings back memories. I remember on the back covers they had their faces and “signatures” underneath. I always thought lisa’s face was horrifying on the back cover.

    I like reading your reviews on the books, made me laugh a lot.

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