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A tomboy-ish track-and-field star, 14-year-old Syd is a standard-issue, mildly confused suburban teenager, alienated from her divorced parents, extremely clever and wonderfully street-smart. Syd discovers she’s a serial killer’s intended third victim one morning when, while on her paper route in Toronto, a creepy cabdriver warns her that his friend, who “likes little girls,” has been watching her. “He told me he is going to come and collect you today,” says the cabbie. Syd, naturally, is terrified. And therein lies the faulty linchpin of Nichole McGill’s debut horror/suspense novel. The cabbie’s warning should send her fleeing to her mother or the cops, but instead she decides to tell no one. When the killer arrives and chases her into a ravine, from which she must escape through an act of violence, she still remains mum, acting out scenarios of skeptical adults in her head to rationalize the choice. The plausibility of events is generally a poor yardstick by which to judge a piece of fiction – except when it comes to character motivation. McGill shows talent in her prose, especially through the book’s first half, as Syd fires off cutting observations and witty zingers about living in “snor-burbia.” McGill also ups the horror quotient nicely by adding the ghosts of the killer’s first two victims – girls #1 and #2 – who caution and help Syd in enigmatic ways. But when it comes to Syd’s character, once the trouble starts McGill wrenches the puppet strings in unlikely directions, out of naked service to story conflict and narrative drive. The best horror and suspense comes with the juxtaposition of the real and unreal, when well-drawn characters confront the bizarre and fantastic. In the end, it is the character of Syd who comes off as unreal, and the book’s tone devolves into flat shrillness.
NICHOLE MCGILL is an Ottawa-based writer and editor. She is the author of 13: Cautionary Tales, and her work has appeared in numerous anthologies and literary journals. Girl #3 is her first novel for young adults.