Friday, November 14, 2014

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick (2013)

For a review free of spoilers, see my original post about this book from last year.

My Not-So-Young Adult book group at work voted to read this and because it has stuck with me so much since I listened to the audio last year, I wasn't going to necessarily read it again. My plan was to skim through a few chapters to remind myself of some of the details. But once I opened the book, I couldn't help but read it in its entirety, even though I'm in the midst of War and Peace and, at that point, had hundreds of pages left.

I loved Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock as much the second time as the first. But now I'll tell you more about why. Some important pieces of the story were left out of my original post because they were spoilers, but those aspects of the story were some of the most important parts.

The reason Leonard is angry and wants to kill Asher Beal is because Asher sexually abused him. They were very close friends and it is implied that Asher was abused by a beloved uncle, after which he turned to Leonard. It is further complicated because Leonard sort of went along with it at first, but then he didn't and it clearly became forced. So he feels not only hurt by the abuse, but guilty and confused. What I love about this plot (I mean, it's horrible, but it's also fiction) is that it represents something that exists but is rarely acknowledged. We know all about bullying, and we know about sexual abuse, but the abuser is generally an adult and the victim is generally a girl. It is just as upsetting when a teenaged boy is raped by another teenaged boy and somehow we forget that this can happen. The novel is all the more realistic because it's as complicated and nuanced as real life can be.

In an interesting juxtaposition, Herr Silverman - the adult that Leonard admires most - has come out as gay to Leonard late in the novel. Leonard is totally like "hey, that's ok" and then immediately chastises himself, because Herr Silverman doesn't need Leonard's approval, so, what a ridiculous thing to say. In an awkward attempt to explain his hatred of Asher Beal, Leonard explains by saying "He's not gay like you. He's horrible." Then he goes on to clarify what happened between them. I keep wondering if Quick made Herr Silverman gay just to contrast with Asher so that the only gay character in the book wasn't an abuser. In any case, it works, and Herr Silverman is one of my very favorite adult characters in YA literature. (Don't be tempted to think a gay teacher could get away with inviting a teenage boy to stay overnight at his house in real life. I'd like to think it would be ok for a teacher to act as Herr Silverman did in the interest of saving lives, but the cynical side of me thinks he'd probably lose his job over it.)

I wondered if my experience with this book would be as positive the second time around, and I'm so glad it was. I just love Leonard. He is angry, yes, but even though he is planning to murder someone you know that deep down he is also a good person, or at least he wants to be. When his horrible mother dismisses the danger of his situation by saying that Leonard would never hurt anyone, it's a terrible thing to say but also, I think, true. This is a boy who spends his lunch breaks listening to another student practice his violin - and even pays him for the privilege - and who befriends a devoutly religious girl who hands out pamphlets at the train station even though he's an atheist, because he admires her wish to save everyone, and who spends his free time watching Bogart movies with an elderly chain-smoking neighbor. He is a great kid who is hurting and just needs someone to say "Happy birthday" to him. I was convinced that he continued to find good in the world and would not be able to bear leaving it. Of course, while I was reading it the first time, I really didn't know whether or not he'd go through with the murder/suicide until he actually made the decision, so maybe this is all hindsight talking.

Matthew Quick is pretty high profile (he's the author of The Silver Linings Playbook, which I've still neither watched nor read) yet this one hasn't gotten nearly the attention that it deserves. I thought maybe I was alone in my love for it, but the 5 attendees at my book group agreed that it is awesome. So spread the word!

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