Matthew Quick’s star has been on the rise since his debut, The Silver Linings Playbook, was made into a movie, starring Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence. The Silver Linings Playbook, though, was written with an adult audience in mind, and to me, it’s by far Quick’s weakest book. In my opinion, his strength clearly lies in Young Adult fiction: Sorta Like a Rock Star, Boy 21, and now Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock, all three are so overpowering, and leave an indelible mark long after the last line is read. And Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock, especially, is a warning, a mirror and a gem of a book all at the same time. There’s no one who should not read this book!
I have to admit: I was thrown off by Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock. It wasn’t because I didn’t expect a good book from Quick – because I did! It was because, despite the incredible compassion in this book (something that was also present in his two other YA books), what stood out initially was the despair in Leonard Peacock’s young life. Usually, there’s that glimmer of hope that lifts Quick’s book from being completely despondent despite the very bad things that have happened to the main characters (like how Tiffany manages to break through to Pat in SLP or how Amber Appleton is really sorta like a rock star just by being who she is). But Forgive Me, Leonard Peocock just threw me off. I didn’t really see that glimmer of hope immediately. Leonard Peacock is depressed. Leonard Peacock wants to kill his former best friend and then commit suicide. He is intent on doing that. That’s how things are. There’s nothing that can change his mind. No, there’s no one that can change his mind. He’s gone far beyond that point already. This is the day. The day he’ll walk into his school with his grandfather’s P-38 pistol.
But then, it’s there… that spark. Leonard wants to say goodbye to the people that have done right by him in some way before killing himself. People that mean something to him: his old next-door neighbor, a boy from school who’s a wonderful musician, a weird bond with the home-schooled Christian girl Lauren, a high school teacher… Slowly the reader uncovers the events that led Leonard to his drastic decision, and it’s not a pretty history. It’s a story of neglect (by his mother), it’s a story of abuse and bullying.
Leonard Peacock, whose voice is insistent, cocky even, is not an easy character to love: he almost intentionally scares off the readers, hellbent on proving that he’s got all the right reasons for his drastic decisions about other people’s lives and his own. And Leonard does get preachy too, enough to put off a lot of readers, I’m sure, but it works. I believed Leonard’s pain. It’s part of Quick’s plan to write his protagonist as real as possible. The footnotes he includes, the letters from the future with his (yes, scary) vision of the future, they all aim at establishing Leonard’s character. And Leonard is definitely a struggling protagonist: struggling with his past and his future. It should come as no surprise either then, that Leonard questions Lauren’s blind faith in religion – religion and faith has always been an important element in Quick’s writing.
Lots of YA writers want to get into the heads of the teens they are writing about and for. Very few of those writers can actually write authentic characters. Matthew Quick gets it. Those feelings of isolation from the world – such an universal theme in many a teen’s life – and the feelings of being abandoned by the very adults who are supposed to take care of them… that is what Matthew Quick excels at. But he is not stuck in the isolation and hopelessness. Even in Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock, Quick shows he’s an optimist at heart. Leonard has some people around him who could give him hope, even though he doesn’t always believe it himself. But if he lets them, if he accepts what some people around him can do for him… then there may be infinite possibilities after all.