Revisited: Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock

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

As promised in August, this is my spoilerific post about Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock. At this point I assume knowledge: you read Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock; you read my initial review; and/or, you don’t care about spoilers.

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock is not about a shooting. While I take Leonard and his pain seriously, I don’t think he’s a murderer or a killer. At the same time, I think he was lucky — had he access to a better gun, had he any experience with shooting guns, he may have become one. But, he didn’t. And this is not a story about Leonard almost killing a boy. It’s about Leonard being alone, and depressed, and suicidal, and having no one and no resources to help him battle that.

As much as I adored this book, and as much as I don’t think books should be messages or morals, the ending is almost not enough of a resolution for me. As I mentioned in my review, Leonard is alone, depressed, and isolated. Since the entire book is his point of view, often the view we get of other characters is not how they truly are but rather how he sees them. For instance, it’s clear to me that he wants Lauren to be his Manic Pixie Dream Girl or his Stargirl, someone who somehow saves him, but she turns out to be a real flesh and blood girl and that doesn’t happen. Yet, all along, one wonders just how much Lauren is like the person he describes to the reader.

And Leonard’s mom! Leonard reveals so few actual details (and I’m someone who notes timelines and such when reading) that while it’s clear she has physically and emotionally checked out on her son by moving to New York City and running a business, it’s unclear the time line on this. Did she leave him at fourteen? Fifteen? Last month? Since Leonard’s father has left the country and the government has seized their assets, and since his mother’s background is fashion, her choice of work and workplace makes sense. Yes, she is self involved and doesn’t realize the depression her son is in; yes, she seems to have dismissed ahead of time what could help him  (she’s a “we’re not the kind of people who need therapy what would the neighbors think and it doesn’t work anyway” type); but I also wonder at what parts Leonard leaves out. Especially at the end, when she refers to “stunts” of Leonard that he himself has not told us about.

It’s not that she isn’t awful. I just wonder if she is as awful as Leonard paints her.

Asher Beal. Why does Leonard want to kill him? I was expecting bullying. I was expecting the betrayal of a lost best friend.

I was not expecting to find out that Asher was molested and raped by a beloved uncle, and that his twelve year old response was to in turn molest, abuse, rape, and manipulate Leonard for a two year period.

The horror of that is almost beyond my comprehension, and the horror I feel is both for Leonard and Asher.

Part of what scares the hell out of me about young adult books such as Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock is the nightmare situations that some teens have to endure. Some adults deal with this horror by believing, ban the book. Out of sight, out of mind, and they can continue believing that kids’ lives are sweet and wonderful and trauma free. Me, I want these books for teens, for a variety of reasons. And I want them for adults as a reminder that this is the truth for some teens.

Back to Asher and Leonard. Part of Leonard’s anger at his mother is she didn’t realize the abuse was happening. Instead, if anything, she thought her son was gay. Which, you know? I can almost understand. I don’t tend to think of kids doing this to each other, when I think of abuse. And it’s further muddied by Asher being a victim, also.

Herr Silverman becomes Leonard’s lifeline. By seeing Leonard. By offering him a realistic hope, if that makes sense, in the advice of “not letting the world destroy you.” This, then, becomes Leonard’s ending: the last future letter he writes to himself is one that encourages him to believe in a future.

What I wish, though, is that it had been a bit more clear that Leonard needs more than letters to himself. Oh, there is a hint that more will happen. Herr Silverman has contacted Leonard’s mother, who both says they are not the type of people who need therapy but can afford any medicine Leonard needs. So, maybe, despite that contradiction, after the pages of the book he will get more help. Because as it is, I don’t think that Leonard just throwing away the gun, and telling someone about Asher, and writing himself a letter is enough to combat his isolation and depression.

What’s funny, though, is I also don’t like insta-cures for such complex issues. And yes, part of this is just Asher’s personality so shouldn’t be “fixed.” And I’m glad there was no easy answers offered at the end. So I’m not quite sure what more I do want, at the end.

So, your thoughts? On Leonard? His classmates? His mother? Asher?

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.