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August 10, 1986|KRISTIANA GREGORY

REMEMBERING THE GOOD TIMES by Richard Peck (Dell: $2.95, paperback; 181 pp.; ages 12 up). Usually it's unfair for a reviewer to give away the ending, but in a way this ending shouldn't be allowed to be a surprise. Here it is: A gifted, healthy boy who is deeply loved by his parents and friends hangs himself in a pear orchard. Suicide.

Now to back up. "Remembering the Good Times" chronicles the friendship between Buck, Kate and Trav, three kids from a dusty Midwest town who've been inseparable since eighth grade. Buck narrates this bittersweet, often funny memoir, describing countryside and people with images so clean you'd recognize them anywhere. He lives with his dad in a trailer behind a Sunoco station, skipping distance from the farmhouse Kate shares with her floozy mom and great-grandmother Polly Prior. Polly, by the way, is a splendid character, a naughty old lady with a bald spot who cheats at cards and offers cranky wisdom from her wheelchair.

In fact all the characters shimmer. Trav lives with his folks in a swank new development full of Type A's who drive lawn mowers on Sunday and BMWs on weekdays. The contrast between these three teens is sharp but poignant as their friendship fills the gaps left open by family and peers. As the good times perk along something else is happening, something so subtle it's easy to see how it escapes everyone else.

Day by day, year by year Trav is slipping away. School is a joke since it provides neither challenges nor guidance. His parents think they understand their son, and his friends, well, they have inklings that he's troubled but they're not exactly sure what to do. The rest, as you already know, is tragedy.

The point Richard Peck makes in this fine novel is that there are danger signs. Suicidals send out subtle, desperate messages long before they actually try anything and it's up to us to be tuned in. Adolescent suicide has become epidemic, in fact last year it was the greatest killer of those between ages 15 and 24, followed by drunk driving and murder. Peck also shows how suicide not only destroys the victim but ripples like a pebble in a pond as survivors struggle to cope.

"Remembering" covers four years, more than the usual span in young adult novels, but this is necessary so we can follow those first teensy hints of trouble and understand how easily clues can be rationalized. 'Tis a grim tale but one the author balances with beauty, love and hope.

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