Published by Little Brown Books for Young Readers on August 13th 2013
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult, Mental health
Today is Leonard Peacock’s birthday. It is also the day he hides a gun in his backpack. Because today is the day he will kill his former best friend, and then himself, with his grandfather’s P-38 pistol.
But first he must say good-bye to the four people who matter most to him: his Humphrey Bogart-obsessed next-door neighbor, Walt; his classmate, Baback, a violin virtuoso; Lauren, the Christian homeschooler he has a crush on; and Herr Silverman, who teaches the high school’s class on the Holocaust. Speaking to each in turn, Leonard slowly reveals his secrets as the hours tick by and the moment of truth approaches.
In this riveting look at a day in the life of a disturbed teenage boy, acclaimed author Matthew Quick unflinchingly examines the impossible choices that must be made—and the light in us all that never goes out.
I can definitely see why Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock is such a beloved book. I believe many readers will find this novel beautiful and heart-breaking; and I did too, to a certain extent. Though I appreciated many things within this book and even found myself emotionally attached to the main character, there were also quite a few elements that really bothered and hindered me at truly loving this story.
The story centres around Leonard Peacock who has decided that he is going to kill himself on his eighteenth birthday. On that morning he packs his grandfather’s Nazi gun into his backpack and sets out to kill not only himself, but also his classmate and nemesis Asher Beal. The story follows him throughout the day, as we slowly learn the reasons behind Leonard’s desperation.
Leonard’s story and his voice appear very honest and raw. Some of the issues that are tackled are rare in fiction and very much needed. The book has many strong points; Matthew Quick manages to make situations simultaneously depressing and humorous and the novel asks important questions about morality, responsibility and faith. It’s also a very engaging and you will fly through it, wanting to know how it ends.
And yet, despite all these positive aspects, this book bothered me.
My main problem was with the protagonist, Leonard Peacock, himself.
He is lonely, an outcast, feels out of place. Something devastating happened to him years ago and he didn’t receive any help. He is neglected. I feel horrible for saying this, but although I did feel for Leonard and could relate to him somewhat, I could not make myself root for him all the way. Leonard Peacock is a stereotype for the suicidal teenager. Bullied and misunderstood, very bright but unwilling to apply himself in school.
However, this wasn’t even the reason I struggled with him. I disliked him because he was so damn condescending and self-absorbed. Seriously, Leonard believes himself to be a special snowflake, superior to everyone else. In his eyes he can do no wrong. If someone disagrees with him, he immediately discredits them. I understand that he’s had a hard life and is sceptical, but that doesn’t justify the way he treats the people around him. He classifies everything and everyone and doesn’t believe a person could ever truly have good intentions. He also completely disregards rules; in tests he chooses not to answer multiple-choice questions because those are beneath him. What’s the point in doing something you don’t feel like doing, right?
I’m aware that this might have been the point. Leonard is jaded and that is why he sees the world in this light. I don’t want to undermine the truly horrible things that happened to him or disrespect his depression. But I still couldn’t get myself to like him.
Matthew Quick wants to give us the impression that Leonard is brilliant and mature beyond his years. One of the examples he uses is a question raised by Leonard’s teacher, Herr Silverman. Herr Silverman asks the class what they believe they would have done had they lived during the Second World War in Nazi Germany. Would they have followed or defied Hitler? Leonard answers this question (in his head) honestly with: “I don’t know.” All the other kids in the class however, claim that they would have stood up to Hitler, gone against his ideals etc. Now I don’t know about you, but if a teacher would have asked my old high school class this question (when we were the same age), I can guarantee that all of us would have answered the way Leonard did. Which leads to the question: Is Leonard truly that smart and mature, or were the other students just portrayed as particularly ignorant to make him look better?
I also wasn’t very happy with how Leonard treated women. He meets a girl called Lauren at the train station who is passing out pamphlets on Christianity. He finds her attractive and is immediately infatuated with her. Since he is the only person who took her pamphlet and actually bothered to talk to her, he somehow believes that he “deserves” her. When he finds out she has a boyfriend he gets angry.
Leonard also implies that the female teachers are all flirting with the male students. When the school counsellor checks up on him, he believes she is actually flirting with him, when really, she says nothing that would justify this claim. Of course, it’s technically fine to have a character who is sexist, but it was never addressed in the story.
The side characters fell flat for me. They all seemed very stereotypical. Herr Silverman, the perfect teacher. Lauren, the unwaveringly devout Christian. Linda, the totally careless and absent mother. They all felt too familiar.
Although this review is quite negative, Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock really isn’t a bad book. I enjoyed it and would recommend it (especially seeing how much everyone else seems to love it); however, I was somewhat disappointed.
Trigger warning for depression, suicide, self-harm and sexual abuse.