A boy and his gun

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock (NetGalley)
Mathew Quick

First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win. 

The blurbs on this YA novel are pretty impressive: “riveting”, “harrowing”, “beautifully written”. And with a starred review in Publisher’s Weekly and a movie deal in the works, I worried the hype was too much. But I read it. In one sitting. Yep–it was that good.

The book opens with Leonard Peacock looking at himself in the mirror after he has chopped off the long hair that has curtained him off from the world. “How long as this guy been hiding under my hair? I don’t like him. ‘I’m going to kill you later today,’ I say to that guy in the mirror, and he just smiles back at me like he can’t wait. ‘Promise?'” Chills. Then he wonders whether or not the P-38 WWII Nazi handgun sitting beside his bowl of oatmeal just might be modern art … so he snaps a photo of it.

The boy, simply put, is not all that likable–he’s sarcastic, rude, and dismissive of just about anyone outside of his small circle of acquaintances. Not friends (in the true sense of the word) because Leonard doesn’t really have any. But he does attempt to date Lauren, a home-schooled Christian girl evangelizing outside the
train station. And there is Baback, the Iranian immigrant who allows Leonard to listen as he practices violin in the auditorium every day at lunch; Herr Silverman, the young Holocaust history teacher who can see through teens’ nonsense; and Walt, the elderly neighbor he watches hours of Bogart films with.

Leonard Peacock’s parents are absent (Dad left the country to avoid drug charges and Mom–or Linda, as he prefers to call her–lives in New York, busy with a career in fashion) and so he’s on his own, physically and emotionally. Leonard is also pretty darn smart, and he knows it. He has memorized extensive lines from both Hamlet and Bogey films, he takes Advanced Placement classes, and he’s expected to ace the SAT. But he’s a teenager for whom school is a burdensome formality and so he spends most of his day challenging his teachers, being a smart ass, and alienating himself from just about everyone.

Leonard also has a secret that has tormented him since he was twelve. While we don’t immediately know what happened to isolate him, we can guess pretty accurately. So after years of pain Leonard decides on his eighteenth birthday he’ll put an end to it. Literally. He plans to murder the object of most of his fury and then commit suicide. The story covers what is to be Leonard’s last day on earth as he gives good-bye gifts to his four friends.

This novel is not for the feint of heart. It’s raw, profane, and sexually explicit at times. But it’s powerful stuff. Although Leonard Peacock may not be a very clinical look at a school shooter, the book gives great insight into the mind of a troubled teen.

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