I loved Matthew Quick’s last novel The Silver Linings Playbook so much I wanted to make it my Facebook background (this means something to my generation). I even settled for a promo of the movie adaptation. The movie was a bland and by-the-numbers distillation that lost much of the weirdness and complex ambiguities which made the book so special, and the book was special indeed.
Now Quick, a former high school teacher, has dropped his next jam: a YA / Teen novel released about two weeks ago with a teenage protagonist planning a murder-suicide. The promise of an adolescent voice with Quick’s narration was enough to get my hopes up; the question is, does Forgive Me Leonard Peacock come through?
The narrator Leonard’s voice reminded me at first of the chapters written by David Leviathan in another YA novel, Will Grayson, Will Grayson. The I-suck-at-everything self pity and childishly hateful bombast within that book quickly grew cloying, although in fairness I don’t relate with defeatist attitudes well (the other alternating chapters, written by John Green, were right up my clever quirkiness alley).
Leonard never gets that bad: he’s a more multi-dimensional character overall. However, those dimensions can seem strangely cobbled together. It’s hard to believe that the same character writing one hopeless, introverted chapter also wrote in the fun, experimenting voice of the next.
One of the revelations of Leonard’s personality, letters that he writes to himself from his future friends and family, are the beaming high point of the novel. These sections are realistic, vulnerable, funny, and heartfelt; and I dare anybody not to get a whole lot of dust in their eye all of a sudden when Leonard’s imagined future wife and daughter encourage him to just hold on (from their family’s post-apocalyptic lighthouse).
In those creative little chapters, the story shows the perfect levels its creator is capable of, and although the rest of the book doesn’t reach those heights, those parts might be worth reading the whole (short) book for all by themselves.
Leonard’s tonal sibling Will Grayson also engaged with complicated real issues like homosexuality and severe depressive episodes. Leonard Peacock engages these issues with higher stakes, as well as others of its own. At some point you might be tempted to ask if the subject matter is right for an irreverent book targeted to the young, and the answer is yes; the answer is always yes.
One of the novel’s triumphs is that it presents honestly, never teetering towards melodrama, or after-school special, or gratuitous teenage wallow. Unfortunately, to achieve this balance in tone it inconsistently paints its subject. He can sound like different people, and not the way real people do. Nevertheless, it’s hard not to like Leonard Peacock, or his book.
I like to tell everyone about when I saw Stephen Chbosky at the Chicago Banned Books Festival, and he spoke before his reading outside the Newberry Library about a letter he received. A young man had read his novel, The Perks of Being A Wallflower, and was encouraged to find out what happened in his life, rather than end it. As a writer, if that happens to you, you can drop the mic. You win. And I can see that happening with Leonard Peacock, if in a quieter way – it’s important that books like this get written, so that people who need them can find them.
It doesn’t capture the magic of Silver Linings, or Chbosky’s Perks, but it isn’t disappointing either. It joins Will Grayson in the interesting and short pile of YA books that tackle complex realities, convey heart, and like to cuss.
THE HIGH FIVE QUOTES:
| “Once when we were talking after class, Herr Silverman told me that when someone rises up and holds himself to a higher standard, even when doing so benefits others, average people resent it, mostly because they’re not strong enough to do the same.”
| “I got to thinking that the world would be a better place if they gave medals to great teachers rather than just soldiers who kill their enemies in wars.”
| “I had seen enough Bogie films to know that you have to ride out the insanity when it comes to beautiful women.”
| “Maybe if we could just picture our enemies jerking off once in a while, the world would be a better place.”
| “I thought you were kidding when you said people in the past believed in love so much that they made statues to celebrate it, so they wouldn’t forget to LOVE.”
Note: No one ever pays me anything to review or link to any books.