Dear Jennifer is the definition of friendship. As if a shoe box filled with various stationaries, envelopes and notes addressed to Jennifer are found in an old dresser, the events that mold this young woman’s life are revealed. Everything we know about this woman, from the time she is six until she’s 35, we learn through the thoughts of others. By piecing together information written to her through the years by relatives, teachers, friends, and lovers, Jennifer is revealed.
The first time Michael writes to Jennifer is in the first grade twenty-five years ago when he passes a note in school. Michael is ‘caught’ in the cloak room with another little boy and Jennifer comes to his rescue. This marks the beginning of their life long, special friendship.
Jennifer’s family is New England blue blood; her father is distant and preoccupied with work and her mother, domineering and controlling of Jennifer and her sister, Gail.
One year separates Gail and Jennifer and when they become teenagers Gail does her best to rebel in every way possible. She dates too many boys and goes too far. She barely studies and always eats too much, to her mother’s dismay. Except for the devotion the sisters share for their Grandmother Maxwell, they are quite opposite. Jennifer studies hard, quietly excelling in appropriate girls’ sports. However, they both try in vain to please their mother and long for their father’s attention.
Michael and Jennifer remain close in high school even after he tells her he is gay and having an affair with a choreographer in New York City. His father, finding the boy’s letters, beats him and Michael at the tender age of sixteen leaves for California to “become a dancer.”
Gail squeaks into Wellesley and lasts all of one term before becoming pregnant and marrying a blue collar guy. The ultimate insult to her mother.
Jennifer, ever diligent in her studies, finds encouragement through a gifted high school teacher, Miss Rosen, who gives her the courage to explore her mind and use her intelligence. In spite of the unhappiness expressed by her mother, Jennifer leaves for a non-ivy league school, Duquesne University, to study science.
Michael and Jennifer continue to write to each other. He regales her with his fledgling dance career and many lovers and she writes of her studies and the sexual feelings she is having toward her graduate assistant, Fran, a woman. Because her sister is busy bringing up a baby and her mother is busy matchmaking for Jennifer with the country club’s young Princetonian, Martin Greenwood, no one thinks it odd when Jennifer brings Fran home for Thanksgiving. Sleeping together in her childhood room with mother and father just down the hall is dangerous but exciting. Ultimately, the closeness and acceptance she longs for from her father are severed when, while he is visiting Pittsburgh on a business trip, Jennifer stumbles in on her father’s private relationship with his secretary.
In California, Michael suffers a career ending knee injury forcing him to move to Chicago and start a new career this time with a much older lover who ‘helps him out’ financially.
Disillusioned and disappointed in her family, Jennifer leaves school before obtaining her Master’s and relocates to California. Michael and she continue to write and continue to support and love each another, each being the others one true friend.
Finally, Jennifer meets someone who adores her, Claire. Though their lives are closeted from most of the world, Claire’s family is as supportive as Jennifer’s is unknowing. Even Gail, who has shared everything from toothpaste to bathrooms with her sister over the years, is clueless about her lifestyle until Gail finds out her husband is cheating on her. She flies to California unannounced for emotional support from her little sister. Surprise.
Gail keeps Jennifer’s secret knowing the disastrous results to the image of the ‘proper’ Maxwell family. All goes quietly for a while. Jennifer gets a promotion and returns to Pittsburgh with Claire being introduced as her ‘roommate.’ The letter from Michael that would change all of their lives arrives postmarked Atlanta. Michael has AIDS, a relatively new problem in the early eighties. He is alone now without any means of support. Jennifer offers to marry Michael. With her health insurance in effect, he would be covered medically, but more than that, he would live with Jennifer and Claire until he died.
The next few months’ Michael’s and Jennifer’s feelings for one another and the sacrifices they make are a test and a revelation of the true meaning of friendship. In spite of every effort, mother and father find out about the sham of a marriage and eventually what they consider being the unacceptable lifestyle of their daughter. Gail, father, mother, and Claire each try in their own way to understand what’s happening and why but only Jennifer and Michael know the special love they share.