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by Jaclyn Moriarty

Pub Date: March 1st, 2001
ISBN: 0-312-26923-4
Publisher: St. Martin's

When a teenager acquires a pen-pal and a life, highs and lows alternate as dizzily as adolescent hormone levels in this engaging Australian debut.

Elizabeth Clarry lives in Sydney with her divorced mother. Her father, remarried and moved to Canada, is currently back for a year, making her mom tense and Elizabeth uncertain. Her story, told in letters and notes, begins when the new English teacher, wanting to “rekindle the joy of the envelope,” insists the class correspond with students at a local high school. Elizabeth draws Christina Kratovac, and the two begin writing to each other. At first their letters merely reprise likes and dislikes: Elizabeth enjoys running, and her best friend is Celia; Christina has a boyfriend, Derek, and four siblings. But the correspondence takes off when Elizabeth describes how Celia, an impulsive self-dramatizer, has suddenly run away and joined a circus, and how she and handsome fellow-student Saxon Walker set off to bring her back. Unfortunately, Saxon now seems to prefer Celia. In addition to her letters from Christina, Elizabeth frequently receives notes from her mother, who works in an ad agency and leaves instructions for dinner, as well as requests for ideas, on pieces of paper stuck to the fridge or pushed under Elizabeth’s door. As Christina confides how Derek is pressuring her to “go all the way,” Elizabeth is shocked to learn that she has a half-brother living in Sydney with her father. Life looks up, though, when Christina tells Elizabeth that she’s learned her pen-pal has a secret admirer. The two girls finally meet by chance, and Elizabeth gives a party that forges new connections and reveals old ones. Before that, though, she must once more rescue Celia, who has run away with Saxon to parachute from the top of the Empire State Building.

Adolescence, zits and all, described with wit and empathy.