Even though I now know about the local idiom in southern Illinois, “going to Anna’ meaning committed to a mental hospital, and we have chatted over drinks at a party, calling you Richard, here, now, in this, will just not do. I’m about to go all fan girl on you so you can’t be anything but Mr. Peck, actually I should probably say, “Mr. Peck, Sir.”
I sat next to you in the common core presentation at SCBWI LA just to get the title of this book. The one you talked about at a post SCBWI LA wrap-up party a while back, the voice you lived with for a while, who kept pestering you, the one who walked onto the stage and demanded to be heard. The voice that became Three Quarters Dead.
It’s been a while since I sat down with one of your books. My only and very lame excuse, that I just couldn’t get there from here. I was busy, with stuff, good reads, yes, some even wonderful, and with life, of course, that takes a good bit. There are those voices inside my own brain, teasing, taunting, chiding, begging. All those rationalizations thin, weak, useless, I really should have done this sooner.
So, a five hour plane ride, and yes, it started with an early rise, four A.M., so natch, I was awake at two-thirty, because getting to the airport on time and getting properly home was more important than sleep. And the trip to LAX and waiting and finally boarding. Meanwhile,Three Quarters Dead hung on my shoulder, lighter than you might think, because I was anticipating, not too different from Christmas Eve when it’s only a bit until, but there is still the hope and the thrill of something unopened, something new, not yet imagined on Christmas morning.
The most wonderful thing about a book and a plane, well, these days, anyhoo, is no one, not a soul, can tell me to put it away. So I began with the before, Last Fall. The set-up, the lead-up to Kerry’s story, or, at that point in time her non-life––illusive, ephemeral, lacking-in-substance sophomore life. And I read. Airplane travel can be a wonderful gift, it is sound, a white noise room stripping everything from your surroundings, letting you be whenever, wherever, whomever you choose. I chose this trip to be in Pondfield High School, a half a bench away from Tanya.
When I first started reading I thought Kerry rather brave. I don’t think I would have ever sat that close to someone who seemed to glow the golden aura that was Tanya. But Kerry said she wasn’t brave and I decided to believe her, to walk the halls of Pondfield High, sit near but not with Tanya, Natalie and MacKensie, to be close to, but not in the shimmering circle which was the ‘cool girls.’
And, as Kerry moved from outside the circle to inside the circle, but, not to the inner circle, I watched. It was worth it. So attached did I become to the story that I had to put down the book to breathe, to remind myself that Kerry would survive, well, to hope that she would, that good would come from this journey familiar to so many kids, that on the other side of Tanya, Natalie and MacKensie, Kerry would be, well, Kerry, smarter, stronger and more Kerry.
I stopped too, because I saw. Of course, I saw. And I was afraid. Not just for Kerry, but for every single solitary human being that feels that reflected light was [is] the only kind by which they would be seen. Kerry reminded me why these books are written, are important, and why they are read. And, I reminded me of why I didn’t read them as a kid and for the most part, don’t today. Somehow, inside my kid brain, deep inside, I knew that I could create my own shimmer, my own reflection, that my light could refract and be interesting, it might be small, weak even, but it would always be mine. And, so, unfortunately [at times], would be the consequences, hard, unyielding. But yes. They were mine! That was essential, I could live with that. Not always well, not always happily, but live, yes I could. And I watched Kerry learn that, and know that she will shimmer, and create something to reflect. And that kids will read this and know what is possible, what is real and that the golden auras of the ‘cool girls’ are really only gild––flimsy, gossamer.
Thank you, Mr. Peck. Sir.