Review: Leonard Peacock

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick. Little, Brown. 2013. Reviewed from ARC from publisher.

The Plot: It is Leonard Peacock’s birthday.

No one remembers.

He has wrapped up four gifts, to give to his four best friends.

And he is bringing his grandfather’s handgun to school.

Today is the day he will shoot Asher Beal, and then himself.

But first he will give the gifts to his friends, and tell us his story.

The Good: There are two questions that haunt the reading of Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock. Why does Leonard want to kill his former best friend? And will he?

The “why” is revealed gradually, during the twenty four hours of Leonard’s birthday. Why did Leonard and Asher change from childhood best friends? Why is Leonard now the school outcast and Asher the popular teen who bullies others?

Leonard will break your heart; at least, he broke mine. Yes, Leonard’s planning to kill someone. And then kill himself. Wanting to murder another, that should be horrifying. And it is. But along the way — well. This is one of those books and reviews where I struggle with spoilers, because I both want people to read and uncover what happens on their own, on Leonard’s time frame, but then I also want to discuss what does or does not happen.

So, as I have done with a few other books, I’m splitting this into two reviews, one non-spoilery and one with more spoilers.

The non spoiler way: yes, what Asher did was terrible and horrible. What was also terrible and horrible for Leonard was how alone he was. and still is. How few people there are in his life.

Leonard’s father has skipped the country, fleeing criminal charges (he’s a former rock musician who owes the government money); his mother has decided to put herself first, moving into New York City and leaving Leonard alone in south Jersey to take care of himself. Those four people who has left good-bye gifts for? A neighbor, a classmate, a local girl, a teacher. And for each, in a way, what they mean to Leonard is more than what Leonard means to them. Because of how alone Leonard is.

Without spoilers, let me say how wonderful his teacher is. Herr Silverman teachers Holocaust studies and German; he is one of the few adults Leonard respects. Herr Silverman gets the important role that a teacher can play in someone’s life. “At the beginning of every class he greets all of his students at the door, shakes everyone’s hand on the way in, smiles at you, and looks you in the eye.” What the teacher is doing is creating a moment: a moment for each of those teens, whether they realize it or not, whether they need it at that moment or not, where that student matters. Is real. Is seen.

Leonard respects very few people: I confess, at one point I got a little irritated at Leonard. So much negativity! So much cynicism and a belief that he knows more, sees more, is better than those around him. At that point, I have to say — I could understand why Leonard didn’t have more friends. Is this Leonard being a typical teen? Or is it a defense mechanism, to be the first to judge and reject when one fears judgment and rejection? Or is it something more?

Here’s a bit of what I mean about Leonard’s world view: “Just as soon as you take the first step toward getting to know someone your own age, everything you thought was magical about that person turns to shit right in front of your face.” Better to never know anyone, to never be disappointed! Better to be alone…. or is it? And a little more, to show when I was a bit impatient with Leonard: “It’s a depressing reality, how my classmates make love to their ignorance.

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock is as much about Leonard slowly realizing the need to have other people in his life as it is about the need to destroy the person who hurt him so deeply, and then destroy himself. Part of what Leonard does is his write himself letters from his future self; it’s something Herr Silverman recommended, a personal “it gets better” with a side of “this shows you what you want, so figure out how to get there.” Want to understand Leonard’s attitude? His future has love, yes: a wife, a daughter, a father in law. But it’s in a post-nuclear world where the small family is isolated, tending a lighthouse.

Leonard wasn’t always this way. (Or was he? He’s telling the story, so who knows? He does mention, about being a kid, “I was already weird back then, and people were starting to notice more and more.“) He talks about when he and Asher were still friends, and how as eleven year olds they got on their bicycles and just rode with total freedom and no destination, leaving their town behind: “It felt like we were embarking on an amazing, forbidden adventure. I remember Asher leading the way through all of these towns we’d never been to before even though they were close by and I remember experiencing a sense of freedom that was new and alive and intoxicating. . . . That day buzzed with possibility.” And that moment — seeing the child that saw possibility, then reading the broken Leonard.

There is so much more I want to say. And I’ll have second post. But to wrap this up: Yes, it’s a Favorite Book Read in 2013. Because Leonard was so achingly real. Because this is about the impact people have on others, even when they don’t realize it. Because some people are so alone. Because Forgive Me always stays true to how Leonard sees the world and other people. Because it’s a tribute to the good that teachers do, not by testing but by being teachers.

Other reviews: The Book Pixie; Perpetual Page Turner; Author Interview at Book Page.


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