SE Hinton

That Was Then, This Is Now

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That Was Then, This Is Now Summary

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That Was Then, This Is Now is a coming-of-age tale, featuring best friends Bryon Douglas and Mark. Mark also happens to be Bryon’s adopted younger brother, and the novel begins with the pair going about their daily routine: hustling at the local pool hall. For the two fast friends, life is about having fun and fighting. Indeed, the two actually look for people to harass and beat up while at the same time, defending their own friends from attacks. One of their friend’s, however, voices his disapproval regarding their violent and frivolous actions. As Bryon and Mark have never questioned their behavior before this point, their friend M&M’s disapproval sparks a questioning period for Bryon, which leads to the novel’s larger themes of coming-of-age, violence, injustice and acceptance.

When the novel begins, Bryon and Mark’s mother is also in the hospital. One day, as the two go to visit her, Bryon meets a boy in the hospital who has been beaten up. The boy, however, harbors no ill will for his attackers. Though Bryon is used to fighting, and indeed beating boys up much like the boy in the hospital, the boy’s attitude toward his attackers, and his ability to forgive, astonishes Bryon. His younger brother Mark, however, finds the boy’s attitude childish, and maintains his belief in violence and revenge. Bryon also meets M&M’s older sister, Cathy, and likes her. He also likes that Cathy is not attracted to the type of violent life they lead.

When Bryon and Cathy go on their first date together, something terrible takes place at the same time. Bryon’s ex-girlfriend, Angela, asks someone to attack and beat up Ponyboy Curtis. When Mark tries to stop the fight, though, he gets beat up instead. Mark ends up in the hospital this time, and while there, he confesses to Bryon that he is the only family Mark has. While healing, Mark also admits to Bryon that he is worried the gang will fall apart. Though Bryon also sees that the gang is not as it once was, he understands this as a sign of growing up and moving on, not growing apart.

After Mark is released from the hospital, he returns to his old lifestyle. At one point, he is arrested for stealing the principal’s car. Bryon gets upset with Mark, and is equally angry that Mark is able to get off with just a slap on the wrist. In this way, he never learns. Interestingly, Bryon’s changing attitude is put to the test when Charlie, a friend of theirs, is killed while trying to protect both Mark and Bryon from the men they were hustling. Due to the event, Bryon feels guilt, and finds Charlie’s death unfair. Mark, however, places the blame on Charlie. He deflects feelings of guilt by saying how Charlie was actually more involved than the two of them were. This difference in mindset eventually pushes the two apart. Though Mark only has Bryon, Bryon retreats to Cathy, who understands where he is coming from. Seeing this shift, Mark feels jealous of Cathy.

When Mark, Cathy, M&M, and Bryon go cruising one day, they get into a fight with one another. Cathy disapproves of how Mark behaves, while Mark does not appreciate how Cathy analyzes his actions. Bryon finds himself stuck in the middle of the two. Eventually, Mark gets upset enough that he leaves. M&M also leaves, saying he is going to hang out with his other friends. Though both Bryon and Cathy try to stop M&M, he leaves, and actually goes missing for a few weeks.

Later, Mark wants to get even with Angela, and so asks Bryon to join him. Though hesitant, Bryon agrees. When Angela passes out in their car, they cut off her hair and leave her in her front yard. Bryon still feels remorse for the beatings and Charlie’s death, but Mark has not changed. He says there is no point in asking hypothetical questions.

Mark then takes Bryon to a house where he says M&M has been staying, the next day. Bryon does not know how Mark even knows this information, though. He also wonders how the people who live in the house, which is a drug house, know Mark. Later in the day, Bryon is waiting for Mark at a friend’s house when Angela’s brothers spot him and beat him up. Mark swears to get revenge for what has happened to Bryon, but Bryon asks him not to. He admits that he wants the violence to stop, and that, like the boy he met in the hospital earlier in the novel, he does not feel anger towards Angela’s brothers. Mark, however, is enraged at Bryon’s passive stance, and wants revenge.

After Bryon recovers, he takes Cathy to the drug house so that she can find her brother, M&M. They find him, but he has a bad acid trip and must be hospitalized. They find out that M&M might never fully recover from the shocking ordeal. This latest blow adds to Bryon’s feelings of guilt. In addition, he finds a stash of drugs under Mark’s bed, and realizes that Mark has been selling drugs. This is how he has been getting his money. Moreover, it is how he knew where M&M was staying: he was selling drugs to the people in the drug house. With everything weighing on his mind, and with seeing the devastation caused by drugs, especially with Cathy and M&M, Bryon calls the police on Mark.

Though seemingly doing the right thing, Bryon is soon overcome by guilt at Mark’s arrest and imprisonment. Instead of blaming himself, he reverts to one of Mark’s tactics and displaces his guilt onto Cathy, as anger. Having done so, he has now lost the two closest people in his life, both Cathy and Mark. At the end, Bryon is left confused and hurting, wishing for better days.