What I read:
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 book, acclaimed author Matthew Quick unflinchingly examines the impossible choices that must be made—and the light in us all that never goes out.
What I envy:
What Leonard wants is to deliver four gifts to the four people who matter to him before he shoots his ex-best friend in the head and then kills himself. Leonard hopes someone will say “happy birthday.”
I’ve read many books that take on teen suicide. But many of the YA books that feature a suicidal narrator have disappointed me. It is difficult to have a character arch if your character’s desire is to end his her her life and the shape of these books can be a constant downward slope which is not satisfying to me as a reader.
In FORGIVE ME, LEONARD PEACOCK, Matthew Quick add a dash, a pinch, a half teaspoon of one ingredient and it makes all the difference: hope.
In the beginning of the book, Leonard goes to his neighbor Walt’s house to deliver his first present and Walt jokes around saying, “It’s not my birthday.” Something inside Leonard wakes up and he hopes Walt is going to ask him “Is it your birthday.” He promises himself (and in turn the readers) that if Walt asks, if he says ‘happy birthday’, Leonard will not go through with his murder/suicide plan.
This book is sad. Leonard is disappointed over and over again by his peers, his teachers, the people who used to be his friends, strangers, and don’t get me started on his mother. Leonard is not an angel either: there is plenty to be angry with him about. This book is much more sad than hopeful.
But it is the hope that gave me a reason to latch onto Leonard, to root for him, to be blindly angry as time after time the people in his world let him down.
I am not saying anything cheesy here. I’m not saying that every teen has that dash of hope somewhere buried deep—who knows if that’s true? But in a BOOK that dash of hope can give a suicidal narrative, an utterly depressing narrative, a genuine arc. It can drive the book forward for the readers.
A few days ago, I saw Matthew Quick tweet about a high school principal who, having read FORGIVE ME, LEONARD PEACOCK, decided to give each student in his school a birthday card.
Yes, a bleak narrative with a pinch of hope can leave a permanent impression. I know I’ll never be the same.