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Three Quarters Dead


Three Quarters Dead

THREE QUARTERS DEAD is one of those books that starts out as one thing and, quick as a blink, becomes something else altogether. If it weren't for the title and the cover art, readers might assume, for the first 60 pages or so, that Richard Peck's latest is a straightforward novel about popularity, peer pressure, and the desire to be part of a powerful clique.

Kerry is a sophomore at a new school, and is a little self-conscious, a little lost, and still smarting from her parents' recent divorce. So she's pleasantly surprised when the powerful triumvirate of Makenzie, Natalie and (most of all) Tanya invite her to sit with them at their lunch table. The popular older girls are soon inviting Kerry over to their houses and talking with her about prom dresses and cute boys. Of course, they're also asking her to sneak into strangers' homes and leave weird and creepy gifts for them. But if that's what it takes to have three best friends, it's worth it, right?

But just when you think that the rest of the novel will be about finding the perfect dress for prom, and the perfect date, everything changes. Fast forward a few months, and Kerry is alone again, reeling from the loss of her three friends: "I remembered last September and eating lunch alone… But back in September I hadn't known what alone was." Now, though, she sure does. So when she gets a surprise text message from Tanya, she eagerly heads into New York City to meet up with the friends she thought she'd never see again.

Once again, Kerry finds herself trying to keep up with Tanya, Natalie and Makenzie as they head out on the town. Will she always live in their shadow? Will she ever discover their secrets? Or can she find the courage and strength to stand up to Tanya when it's a matter of life and death?

I grew up reading Richard Peck's classic teen supernatural suspense novels like SECRETS OF THE SHOPPING MALL and GHOSTS I HAVE BEEN. THREE QUARTERS DEAD proves that, despite the many awards Peck has won in the meantime, he still knows how to create a truly creepy story, one that will have readers flinching at unexpected shadows and strange noises. He constantly plays with readers’ expectations of the kind of novel this is, turning the plot around on itself countless times and keeping readers engaged --- and spooked out --- until the thrilling, disturbing conclusion.

At times, Peck's attempts to capture the easy conversation of teen girls fall flat: “Remember,” says one character, “We're test-driving these dresses. They need to say ‘Queens of the Prom and Then Some.’ Otherwise, none of this is any big deal. Stay cool, don't drool. Look like you live it.” Despite some clunky dialogue and misfired slang, THREE QUARTERS DEAD nevertheless has a lot of important things to say about peer pressure and the drive to belong, key lessons all wrapped up in a truly creepy package.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on October 28, 2010

Three Quarters Dead
by Richard Peck