Honest and lively YA book reviews
This is such a difficult book to review because I'm genuinely unsure about how I'm supposed to feel about it. Like, what exactly was Matthew Quick's intention when he created Leonard?
On the one hand he seems to be a character for us to side with, feel sorry for, understand better through his memories and flashbacks. And on the other hand I want to kick him until he's down and then stomp on his neck because he's a little shit who needs to get a grip.
Leonard Peacock decides, on his 18th birthday that he will kill first his ex-best friend and classmate, Asher and then himself because he's isolated and alone and afraid. We follow him and his inner monologue for a little over 24 hours, experiencing his reality and his memories as he struggles to find something to live for.
I love reading stories about people who are a little bit fucked up. People are endlessly fascinating. Everyone views the world slightly differently, taking their own experiences and opinions and mashing them up with whatever is happening in front of them to create their own interpretation of the situation. And sometimes, as in Leonard's case this situation can fail to resemble reality even a little bit. Leonard is of the opinion that everyone is an "übermoron" and that nobody cares about him. He's the smartest person to ever breathe, he's violently pretentious and has no need to follow any rules ever because he's completely above everyone and everything. So in short, he's an irritating little fucker. But he's also incredibly sad and a product of his horrific past experiences. Do you see my dilemma? I hate him, but I feel for him.
Bullying is a sticky subject. And I think the handling of it was a little clunky throughout Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock. I don't really get bullying. It wasn't because I wasn't bullied - I was duh. After all I think for myself, I was pretty shy and a little chubby as a kid and I just plain didn't fit in. But I just don't understand a bully's mentality. Making people feel like shit for my own sense of self satisfaction is such an alien concept for me. I just can't. And I don't feel like this book really can either. It was very brushed over and avoided. Was Leonard really bullied? It's hard to tell. We never really got a sense of anything outside of The World According To Leonard Peacock and so other people weren't really on his radar. He lumped all of his classmates and peers together in a mass of stupidity, cliques and grins and so we never really got a sense of targeted bullying. The whole book is written like this - Leonard is so incredibly self-absorbed there's no room to get an accurate picture of setting and circumstance. But this is part of my confusion - was this intended? Leonard is determined to end his life, in part because he's trapped inside his own head and can't see past his own nose to the suffering, dreams and wishes of others. He is unable to experience any empathy or understanding and while this goes some way to explaining his deep discontent it also makes it very difficult to connect with him as a character.
He only views the world from his own, very limited standpoint. He had this weird obsession with proving himself right - that the world is nothing but a bleak and bitter cycle of perpetual nothingness. He skips school to dress up in a suit and follow commuters to work to discover if adults are truly as miserable as he suspects. He makes no effort to secure his own happiness, instead believing that there is no hope for him or the world. On one occasion he follows a woman off the train on her way to work corners her and asks her some rather invasive questions:
""This little prick follows women into dark alleys and asks them intimate questions. He's a true pervert. Do with him as you will," she said loudly to everyone eating breakfast.
He then proceeds to be ridiculously offended at this accusation, blaming his victim for his bizarre behaviour:
"I figured the woman was really deranged - I had simply picked a femme fatale to follow, there were surely better case studies to find, happier adults prone to sadness, and she was just an unlucky fluke."
Like, what?!! What was he expecting to happen?!! This is what I mean by his completely inability to consider anything beyond his own frame of reference. He couldn't see how intimidating and unsettling he appeared, instead the whole world is wrong and he is right. Every time. And being inside the head of a character this blind, stubborn and insensitive for 273 pages is fucking frustrating.
He behaved the same way with poor Christian Lauren - a homeschooled, devoutly religious girl only trying to spread the word of god before she is also stalked and made to feel uncomfortable by Leonard. He acts so goddam entitled towards Lauren:
"She kept looking eagerly at the people coming out of the subway station and wasn’t really paying me much attention anymore, which I thought was weird, since I was the only person who had taken her pamphlet. You’d think she’d concentrate on winning me over, right?"
Leave the chick alone you jerk!! It's not like Leonard has some kind of disorder whereby he cannot conduct himself appropriately in social situations - he's just a dick with no regard for the way others are feeling. Let other people live their fucking lives Leonard !!!
Of course we eventually discover the root of Leonard's problems and it's horrific. He and Asher used to be best friends until Asher began sexually abusing Leonard following his own abuse at the hands of his perverted uncle. It's pretty heavy stuff. But I didn't really like the way it was tackled in the book. It's written in a very cold, unfeeling way. Of course, this again may be intentional. Leonard may not have the mental capacity to deal with these memories in any other way than with a very factual, unemotional attitude. But that doesn't take away from the fact that discovering the truth could have been written in a way as to have a bigger impact on the reader. I also feel like although this goes some way to explaining Leonard's inability to connect with his peers through a complete lack of trust, it does not fully excuse the way he behaves as his reaction is so extreme as to almost make Leonard seem a little caricature-ish. It was just all kinda clunky and somewhat ham-fisted. I dunno. I just couldn't get fully behind Leonard. I just didn't feel what I expected to feel for him.
The character of Herr Silverman was wonderful. He is Leonard's teacher and the only adult he trusts and respects.
"There's a lot for you to live for. Good things are definitely in your future, Leonard. I'm sure of it. You have no idea how many interesting people you'll meet after high school's over. Your life partner, your best friend, the most wonderful person you'll ever know is sitting in some high school right now waiting to graduate and walk into your life - maybe even feeling all the same things you are, maybe even wondering about you, hoping that you're strong enough to make it to the future where you'll meet."
He encourages Leonard to think about life after school, to open up his view of the world and consider that there's more than what's happening right now. He's incredibly supportive and thoughtful and understands what it's like to feel different and out of place. I thought he was a good catalyst for Leonard's epiphany. I can imagine that some of the things that Herr Silverman has to say would be important for other teenagers to hear too.
Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock was a very confusing book for me. I was ready to love it, i ready for epic feels but I ended up only feeling mildly irritated. The conclusion wasn't very satisfying. It was difficult to understand Leonard's psychological state at the end of the story as it was all very hurried and superficial. I think I need to stop reading these teen-coming-of-age, dealing-with-shit, figuring-stuff-out novels. It seems writers have a hard time finding the right tone of voice for their characters. And this insufferable, pretentious, bullshit voice they all seem to go for really sets my teeth on edge.
Yeah - *shrug*
See y'all after !!