Pen Pals #5 – “Sam the Sham”


Back in the old days, I would have traded in my hot pink stirrup pants for a chance to go off to boarding school. It was a dream I had frequently–I’d get to go to some kind of exclusive, super-fancy school, have zany roommates, and possibly sneak out and meet some guy who looked like Chris O’Donnell.

Here we see the ladies rockin’ it hard at a school mixer. Putting aside my issues with Lisa’s monkey arms and Shanon’s prairie dress, I’d like to point out that Palmer (the poofy-haired blonde) looks approximately 37 years old in this pic. I suspect this is supposed to imply that she’s so upscale that she dresses like a grown-up, but IMHO, children dressing like adults is about is unatural as dogs wearing jogging suits.


Cute? Maybe for a second, until you realize what you’re actually looking at.

Scary? Oh, yes. Behold the latest Vera Bradley marketing campaign…


There’s got to be something morally wrong with dressing a 13-year-old like a middle-aged investment banker on holiday in Newport. Just saying.

In case anybody’s wondering why I know so much about a semi-obscure clothing line like Vera Bradley, the reason is that I get their little junk mailer occasionally because my home’s previous owner had really terrible taste. Trust me on this–I fully checked out her shoe collection during our initial house tours and found it very lacking.

And now that I’ve started to channel my Inner Palmer, let’s get on with the recap, shall we?

Back Cover Blurb:
Is this some kind of joke?

Palmer and Shanon are tutoring children as part of their school’s community service requirement. (I guess that the Alma Stephens School for Girls is kind of like jail in that sense.) Shanon loves it, but Palmer can’t keep her mind on her young pupil, Gabby–she’d rather think about her new pen pal. His name is Sam O’Lery, and his letters are wonderful!

But Palmer has a lot to learn about priorities–and about Sam. Gabby reallly looks up to Palmer, and is devasted when Palmer disappoints her. And it seems there is no Sam O’Leary at Ardsley. But if that’s true, who’s been writing to Palmer?


Here’s the setup: Amy, Lisa, Shanon, and Palmer all go to Alma Stephens and live in Suite 3D of Fox Hall–thus their cloying nickname, “The Foxes of the Third Dimension.” It wouldn’t be so bad, except that everybody else (including teachers) refers to them as “the Foxes.” Every time this happened, I wanted to gouge my eyes out.

Since Alma Stephens is an all-girls school, the ladies satisfy their man cravings with pen pals from the nearby all-boys school, Ardsley Academy. I guess this is a romantic thing or whatever, like Myspace for kids who were born without the benefits of the internets. Palmer, the rich bitchy one (pretend Jessica Wakefield and Lila Fowler had a love child), is currently the only Fox without a pen pal since things didn’t work out with her last fake boyfriend, a douchey guy named Simmie.

Because Palmer is an asshole, naturally she’s taking all her anger out on everybody else. The other girls sort of hate her, but none of them have the balls to really stand up to her, so whatever.

We start out with Palmer and Shanon going off to the library to fulfill their tutoring obligations to something called the Brighton Project, which I guess pairs bitchy prep school chicks up with less-fortunate girls from public schools. Shanon’s tutoring a girl named Petra, who apparently couldn’t read or write for shit until St. Shanon came along.

And don’t think she ever lets us forget about it, either. Ugh. I hate it when people do nice things, then just keep patting themselves on the back for it. WTF do you want, a gold star? Yeesh.

At least Palmer is a little more honest about things: she openly states that she hates the Brighton Project and doesn’t really like her girl, Gabby. Palmer has very little patience for anybody, let alone a poor 8-year-old who doesn’t know how to do math and refuses to dress like a 40-year-old businesswoman (or so I would guess).

Despite the fact that she’s being forced to spend an hour a week with a member of the unwashed masses, at least things are looking up for Palmer in the pen pal department. She’s just hooked up with a guy named Sam O’Leary, an Ardsley student who plays in a rock band called the Fantasy.

It sounds more like a strip club than a rock band, but I digress. The point is, Sam tells Palmer that he’s super rich, athletic, and talented. He also includes a picture of himself in all of his ginger-haired glory (though he’s described as having “red-blonde” hair), and so of course Palmer is one smitten kitten.

For a few days, she’s a bit less of a bitch to everybody, but then the girls take a school trip to Ardsley to hear some geologist speak. While the rest of the Foxes are making googly eyes at their respective pen pals, Palmer is once again left in the dust as Mr. O’Leary is a no-show. Bummer!

Palmer and the girls try to track Sam down, only to find that nobody named Sam O’Leary is currently on the list of students. Everyone thinks that Palmer is getting punk’d by someone, though nobody knows who. In the meantime, Lisa, Amy, and Shanon all try to find ways to make Palmer feel better while Palmer (in true diva fashion) divides her time between: 1) yelling at everyone, and, 2) menstruating. She also makes fun of little Petra for not being able to spell, which is really evil, but sort of funny.

Palmer, hon, you’re bitching about how complicated it is to teach 8-year-old Gabby simple math problems. I think it’s time to introduce the bitchy pot to the stupid-ass kettle, don’t you?

Speaking of the Brighton Project, Palmer pretends to be really sick one day so she doesn’t have to meet with Gabby. She decides to stay in and listen to music, watch TV, maybe binge eat a little. You know, the usual.

Turns out Gabby is way more attached to Palmer than anybody ever thought, because the kid throws a complete shit fit when she finds out that Palmer ditched her. I guess she’s a glutton for punishment or something.

When she gets home, Shanon tells Palmer what happened and kind of stands up to her, though it’s still pretty lame. If I had done this, it would have included more bitch-slapping and less politeness, but that’s just how I roll.

Palmer then decides to be a better tutor–just like that. No big personal revelation (not that we can see, anyway) just a quick, “Yeah, that’s cool” and suddenly this formerly Satanic prep-schooler is totally devoted to Gabby. She even finds a way to get through to Gabby using simple food rewards as encouragement, which makes me wonder if she’s been watching the Dog Whisperer.

The next afternoon, the girls get to go on a school-sponsored excursion to the local mall. I’ll skip the 20 or so pages of shopping-related squealing and just get to the meat: they find Sam O’Leary, the mysterious “Ardsley” guy with a successful rock band, working at a shoe store! Gag me with a spork!

He tries to say hello to Palmer, but of course she immediately runs to the bathroom to scrub herself clean of his dirty, working class influence. All the girls feel really bad for Palmer, knowing what an elitist bitch she is and all.

Shanon even sneaks some time on the computer to get online to talk to her pen pal, Mars (which I guess is totally restricted since this is 1989 and the school probably has to pay per hour or some such) to dig up some more dirt on Sam. Turns out Sam O’Leary did go to Ardsley until last semester, at which point he transferred into regular high school.

Tell me something, Shanon. Was that vital information worth getting in trouble for? Seriously? We’ve already established that Sam is a “sham” who is so poor he actually has to work for a living, so who cares that he’s enrolled in regular high school?

Later, Palmer gets another letter from Sam that is absolutely made of win. He explains how his financial situation at home forced him to go back to public school, but that he still knew a bunch of his old Ardsley friends and still received the Ardsley newsletter, where he found Palmer’s ad seeking a pen pal. Mars filled Sam in on all the details, and so Sam pretended to be rich and successful to win her heart.


…(and this is the good part) Sam tells her that he’s really grateful that they never really got a chance to go on a date or anything now that he’s seen firsthand what a snobby bitch she is. End of fake relationship, little mama. You got served!

The end.

Umm, actually, no. Don’t you wish it was, though?

The next day, all the girls go to a mixer between Ardsley and Alma Stephens, and guess which super-awesome, strip-club monikered band is playing? That’s right, it’s the Fantasy! Sam is up there rocking his little ginger ass off and everyone is really enjoying themselves.

Everyone but Palmer.

Of course, things work out for her in the end–Sam finds her in the crowd during a break between sets and the two of them hammer out their differences. Palmer says she’s not as big of a snob as Sam thinks and uses her tutoring sessions with Gabby as proof.

You know, because she loved doing it so much and never, ever made the poor kid feel like an idiot or anything.

And Sam says that he didn’t mean to lie to Palmer, but he just thought she was so cool and pretty that he really wanted to get to know her.

So yeah, crisis averted. Palmer has a new pen pal, the girls start to realize that she’s not as stuck-up as they thought (ummm… when did she prove THIS?) and all is right with the world.

Quotable Quotes:

The four girls smiled at each other, knowing that they were all thinking the same thing at that moment. All together, they shouted it out: “Foxes of the Third Dimension forever!”

…and I just puked in my mouth a little.

The Moral of the Story:
If Palmer is upset, we should spend the whole book attempting to cater to her needs. When she does one mildly charitable act (which oddly involves treating a poor kid like a dog) we should reward her for it! Ditto for her decision to keep slumming it with Sam, who is ok to write to because his sexiness makes up for his public schooling.

Tagged with: , , ,
Posted in Other books, Pen Pals, Stereotypes
6 comments on “Pen Pals #5 – “Sam the Sham”
  1. Sadako says:

    Awww, that pink track suited, or whatever, pug is sooo cute!

  2. R. G. Quimby says:

    Yeah, I know, I know. Animals in clothes are cute, but it’s just not natural!

    I know it’s wrong, but the pink looks so right!

  3. Elizabeth says:

    Every once in a while I forget how much I love those classic ’80s covers… and then I see one like that.

  4. Laura says:

    Hah! I don’t have any witty comments, but I just wanted to let you know that your snark is awesome.

  5. Aileen says:

    Loved your snark. I read two books in the series back in the day. Not this one though. Lisa was the protagonist in the book I remember and it had a P.S. in the title.

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