(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Richard Peck 1934–

American novelist for young adults and adults.

While he has written thrillers, ghost stories, and romances, Peck is best known for his works portraying young people caught up in personal problems. His subjects include teenage pregnancy, rape, divorce, suicide, and other topics which have been avoided until recently in young adult novels. To keep his topics relevant, Peck travels widely, meeting young people to hear their opinions and concerns first hand. This respect for his audience has helped to make him one of the most popular contemporary young adult writers.

Peck's first novel, Don't Look and It Won't Hurt, illustrates his commitment to realism. Its title is the advice the protagonist gives to her older sister, who is unmarried, pregnant, and afraid of giving her child up for adoption. The book was generally felt to be poignant and compassionate, although it was criticized for its lack of depth, a comment which has been applied to several of Peck's later titles. Are You in the House Alone? is perhaps his most controversial work, depicting the trauma of a young girl who is pursued and eventually raped by a disturbed classmate. Several critics applauded Peck's restraint in the handling of this subject and his indictment of the American social stigma and legal treatment of rape and rape victims.

Critics have usually found Peck to be an honest and perceptive writer whose books project an uncommon authenticity. He writes from the perspective that growing up today is more difficult than ever before and that literature directed to young people should reflect and explore this fact honestly. His popularity among young adults suggests that his own books successfully meet this criterion. Peck was awarded the National Council for the Advancement of Education Award in 1971, and won the Edgar Allan Poe Award from Mystery Writers of America in 1976 for Are You in the House Alone? (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 85-88, and Something About the Author, Vol. 18.)