This book is in bookstores now.
This is a remarkable book, on several levels. It may shock you, sadden you, make you laugh and cry at the same time, stretch credibility more than once, but ultimately it carries a great message of hope and encouragement for its readers. I hope that parents, librarians and booksellers recommend this book to kids who are struggling – with their identity, future plans, feelings of self-worth, and all the myriad issues which they face daily. It goes without saying that those same librarians, booksellers and parents should read the book themselves.
Matthew Quick bravely addresses that toughest of all topics in young people’s fiction writing, the idea of suicide. Leonard Peacock, uber hero or anti-hero perhaps, is about to turn 18 and has a plan for celebrating his birthday.
His school life is irksome, he has few friends, is pretty much a loner, and is confused about a whole raft of things – not uncommon for the modern teenager. He also has a severely dysfunctional parent who chooses to spend most of her time away from home, only returning if summoned to deal with a perceived crisis. This aspect of the plot stretched credibility for me – but perhaps there are parents out there who would sooner bolt than deal with troubled teens!
Leonard is a complex and intelligent character, and mostly very credible. His relationships with his teachers ring true (particularly if you work in a school, and have observed the teenager at work). He has a healthy disregard for authority, not altogether a bad thing, and a well-developed sense of trying to be a good person.
The other major characters are generally well-drawn – in particular the teacher Herr Silverman, and Walt the aging next-door neighbour. These adults are the most constant and reliable figures in Leonard’s life, and you get a good sense of how these relationships work through clever dialogue and footnotes (more of that shortly).
Some of the other characters are less developed, but the flawed character of Asher Beal, one-time best friend turned tormentor, is a cracker.
There are many twist and turns in this book, and each time you think you’ve got it, something else surprises you. It’s written in the first person, which is not always comfortable for readers. I imagine Matthew Quick intended this – by using this voice you as reader get inside Leonard Peacock’s head whether you wish to or not. It’s not pretty and not easy being there, but it’s a terrific technique for such a powerful novel.
I mentioned footnotes – unusually for a fiction writer, Quick has opted to flesh out details and background and provide sarcastic comments in Leonard’s voice by using footnotes. The footnotes are informative, funny, enlightening and it’s a very clever way to avoid breaking up strong narrative with too much detail. I think kids will find this appealing. I certainly did. There’s also the use of letters to Leonard from people in the future – again, an interesting way of managing the complexities in the book which might otherwise disrupt the narrative.
I have deliberately not given out any spoilers in this review – or so I hope. Highly recommended for older teenagers. Despite the occasional hiccup (like the mother!) I really enjoyed the book, and I look forward to hearing what my student readers make of it.
Reviewed by Susan Esterman
Forgive me, Leonard Peacock
by Matthew Quick
Published by Hachette (imprint: Headline)