book review: forgive me, leonard peacock

One of the things I enjoy about Young Adult literature is how much fantasy and science fiction there is in the category. The whole “it’s a world like ours, but plucky protagonist discovers there are dragons in human form” kind of thing. There’s a way of turning the big existential questions that plague young people (well, I hope we never totally grow out of existential questions, but for young people especially) into metaphors to look at them differently.

Matthew Quick’s Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock doesn’t do that. The only fantasy in this story is a series of letters Leonard Peacock has written to himself from the future, at the request of his Holocaust teacher.

This is the story of Leonard Peacock’s birthday which is also the day he brings a dead Nazi’s gun to school for a murder-suicide.

It’s kind of amazing. There are four characters he has farewell gifts for before he ends his life and the life of the young man who was once his best friend but has become something else, and we follow him through the day and his life with these people in his memory. We meet these four – his elderly neighbour he watches Humphrey Bogart movies with, the Iranian violinist who goes to his school, the homeschooled evangelist he has a crush on and his Holocaust teacher – and learn about the other people in his life and how it has come to this.

Quick has written Leonard as a smart kid who loves Hamlet and he tells the reader his story directly, with many asides in the footnotes. He’s also weird, and critical and feels very authentically teenagery. He snarks at the “It Gets Better” campaign, but really really wants some help with life. One of my favourite things about the book is that the people he’s giving his gifts to, they aren’t stupid. He cuts off all his hair and everyone is worried. They see the warning signs and can tell they’re warning signs but it’s hard to tell what to do. No one is stupid; they’re just people.

I loved the book and recommend it highly (probably not for middle-schoolers though). And it makes an interesting companion piece to We Need to Talk About Kevin.

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