Bryon gives Charlie his car back and finds out that Charlie received his draft letter for the Vietnam War. Mark asks Bryon to read a book to him, and they reminisce about how Bryon used to read to Mark all the time when they were little; Mark has always been too lazy and too uninterested to read himself. Mark brings up a lot of old memories of their childhood. They talk about how everything is changing.
Mark is too unwell to go school on Monday. At school, the kids treat Mark as a hero because of the fight; Bryon realizes that everyone will only believe what they wanted to believe. Bryon is affected by his talk and reminisces with Mark, and feels as though he is watching life happen. That Monday, Bryon has some realizations about his social life/standing in his high school (his school district covers their bad section of town, as well as a well-off area) and realizes that he previously thought everyone—rich or not—liked him because of his friendliness, and yet he is actually invited to parties because rich kids want to display their wealth to him. Integration is not really a thing at their high school yet.
Mark gets better and goes back to school; while also intelligent, Mark does not try in the least bit, and goes to school mainly for something to do. Bryon often does not see Mark until they both get home. One day the following week Mark doesn’t show up for a while. Mark’s friend Terry Jones comes by and tells Bryon that Mark was arrested for hotwiring the principal’s car. Apparently, Mark has been doing this once every week to drive down to his probation officer (he is on probation for car-stealing). Bryon is concerned, but Terry tells him that Mark was so persuasive that the principal was laughing after talking to Mark.
The book’s title is derived from the first instance of Bryon’s saying, “That was then, this is now,” while reminiscing with Mark. Mark, who out of the two boys is the one who lives most in the present, is the one who initiates, “Do you remember?...” and brings up memories from long ago. Reminiscing about an incident when they were almost taken to the police station, they wonder about what eventually happened to the man who was responsible for taking them there, and how he felt when he realized they had escaped. The importance of perspective is central to this story, and the boys begin to realize here and there that different people will only be able to know certain things. Mark asks, “Do you ever get the feeling that the whole thing is changin’? Like something is coming to an end because somethin’ else is beginning?” (Pg. 68.) This is the most direct reference by Hinton about the coming-of-age element of this novel. The concept of growing up and becoming fully independent terrifies the boys. Not only are they socioeconomically disadvantaged, but they are also psychologically still locked in a group mentality. “We were like brothers, not just you and me, but all of us together,” says Mark, “And now everybody’s kind slipped away” (pg. 68). Bryon replies with, “It’s kind of a good thing, too, when you know your own personality so you don’t need the one the gang makes for you” (pg. 69). When Mark says that there must still be a difference, Bryon says that the only difference is that “that was then, and this is now” (pg. 69). The passage of time, and the effects and importance of time, are also integral to this story. The movement of and the changing abilities of time manifest themselves in the importance of the historical context of the ‘60s—Charlie, for example, receives his draft notice, a clear source of stress for him—and the hippies in the neighborhood have a profoundly unsettling effect on the characters. Talking about the past with Mark also helps Bryon see his present and his future more clearly as he observes the social politics at his high school. The past is a definite clarifying and magnifying lens for the future.
After Mark comes home, he justifies to Bryon that his stealing the principal’s car weekly was “just one of those failures to communicate” (pg. 74-75). Communication becomes more and more of an issue now as perspective affects Bryon; he realizes more and more that not knowing what Mark is doing bothers him.