My Life in Books: Secrets of the Shopping Mall

Teresa and Bernie are eighth-graders in a grim inner city junior high school, forging a friendship based on the common bond of being persecuted by the same bullies. When the bullies lock Bernie in his own locker, Teresa rescues him and the two decided they’ve had enough. With nothing waiting at home that’s much better than what they endure at school, they decide to run away. They pool the money they have to get on a bus and buy a ticket as far away as they can – Paradise Park, the driver tells them.

Paradise Park turns out to be a shopping mall. Having no more money, the pair are stranded, but they discover that they can reside undetected in the shopping mall, surviving by stealing food at night and mingling with the shoppers during the day. They also soon discover that they are not the only residents of the shopping mall. At night a group of displaced orphans move around the shopping mall, having learned the art of posing as mannequins during the day, unmoving for hours.

Richard Peck wrote a lot of creepy books for teenagers, in the days when ‘Young Adult’ was only just emerging as a genre. I discovered this in my school library in my early teens. The reason I remember it so clearly is because I read it at Christmas. As an young teen I was still excited about Christmas (I’ve become rather more cynical about it in recent years), so I went to bed with a book on Christmas Eve, reading late into the night until I was tired enough to fall asleep. This was the ‘bedtime reading’ book for Christmas Eve 1982 or 83 – can’t remember which.

What I do remember, very clearly, is the unease and genuine creepiness of this book underscored by the festive cheer and excitement of Christmas – a strange combination – as I read it. But I don’t actually remember what happened at the end of this book, or what happened to Bernie and Teresa.

The book, it appears, is still in print, with this same cover that featured on the copy I read (check out those dodgy 80s fashions and hair styles). Maybe I should re-read it.

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