Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick
My rating: 5 of 5 teacups
I don’t know how helpful this review will be because I read most of the book through a film of tears. Which is an embarrassingly melodramatic statement to make after this book managed to be so dark and sad without feeling forced or manipulative like my words. But it’s true. Some of the tears were laughter, most of them were sadness. I just… I don’t know how to review books like this. I want to string together a list of beautiful, funny or sad quotes from the book when what I’m really saying is: “Just read it. Don’t take my word for it. Look, it’s there. Go love it.” Most of the book’s strengths can’t be talked about without spoilers and one of the main issues targeted in the story is very much needed; there’s not nearly enough books out there about it. But I can’t tell you what it is.
I’m tempted to say “I wish all books were like this” but that would totally defeat the point of what I’m saying. Because Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock felt so different to everything else out there and that’s partly why I loved it so much. Some of Leonard’s problems have been explored in other young adult novels, but none of them do it in quite the same way. I especially liked the creative use of letters Leonard wrote to himself from the future (this makes a lot more sense when you read the book, I swear). But, as with Sorta Like a Rock Star, the real strength lies with the vibrant, full-of-life protagonist himself. He takes center stage and captures your attention for the whole book, dragging you into his life until you find it hard to put down the novel and convince yourself he isn’t real.
Sorta Like a Rock Star is a darker book than the cover would have you think but it looks a bit like sunshine and rainbows when compared to this. And yet, somehow, Quick manages to make the dark story of Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock work by mixing in some scenes of humour and, ultimately, hope. I can handle dark and depressing stories just fine, but a light at the end of the tunnel to balance out a story where I care so much about the main character is essential. And in this book, I cared so much I couldn’t look away from the sad story of Leonard and how he decided his eighteenth birthday would be his last. Taking his grandfather’s P-38 pistol in his backpack, he sets out to kill his former best friend and himself. Over the course of the day, we slowly learn the reasons behind Leonard’s decision and are forced to sit on the edge of our seats, hoping one of the people in his life breaks the pattern and stops letting him down.
Leonard Peacock has to be one of the loneliest characters I’ve ever encountered. He’s weird. He’s confused. Part of him wants to die but most of him just wants to be saved. There’s a sad honesty to his voice that makes the story so convincing and that much more effective. I also love books that weave in questions about morality that actually make the reader stop and think for a while. There’s plenty of questions being asked here about life, death, parental responsibility, the way we view others and religion. The last of which, in my opinion, gives us some of the funniest moments of the whole novel (though perhaps not if you’re particularly devout). There is some mockery of the whole “believe or be damned to hell” aspect of religion but, let’s be honest, that is hilarious.
All I can say now is: read this. But be prepared for sadness. There’s a sad tone to the novel that goes beyond the “issues” targeted. And I think the reason is Leonard Peacock. Because the author makes you love him from afar and you just want to hug him and solve his problems, knowing that you can’t. That’s the only reason I can think of to explain why this book was so sad even in the happier bits. And why I was tearing up even when Leonard said “the world would be a better place if they gave medals to great teachers rather than just soldiers.” Jesus, I’m going to cry again if I don’t stop talking about this book. So, get out of here. Go READ IT.