Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock

The premise of Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock is immediately gripping: Today, on his birthday, Leonard Peacock plans to shoot a classmate and then himself.

It’s a situation that unfortunately is all-too-believable, that a sensitive young man will find being unpopular at school and overlooked by his single mother too much to keep struggling with. As the book progresses and Leonard becomes more honest with himself, we learn more of what’s driven him to this decision point. That’s what kept me reading, wondering why he felt his life was that bad and what the secret would turn out to be.

The supporting characters are striking, particularly his elderly neighbor. They watch Humphrey Bogart movies together and quote the dialogue to avoid talking about real feelings — yet the quotes say more than they expect. My favorite paragraph in the book is this:

… the movies were for men who came home from World War II disoriented, trying to make sense of the new postwar world, trying to relearn how to be men in a new domesticated life with women. There were no women around during the fighting overseas, just men supporting men, which is the reason for the Lauren Bacall-type femme fatales. During the war, men forgot how to interact with and trust women…. I admire Bogart because he does what’s right regardless of consequences — even when the consequences are stacked high against him — unlike just about everyone else in my life.

Similar to the movies, the female characters don’t come off well in this book. There’s the absent mother, Linda, an ex-model leaving Leonard alone for days at a time in New Jersey while she gallivants around New York City. (At least, by Leonard’s telling.) The only other is Lauren, a girl Leonard crushes on when he meets her giving out pamphlets in the train station. She’s a devout Christian, home-schooled and witnessing, and Leonard misreads her interest.

The most significant other character in the book is Herr Silverman, German teacher and leader of a class on the Holocaust, which Leonard uses for comparisons. Some might find it in bad taste that his alienated teen problems are compared to Jews and Nazis; others will be disappointed that there’s a case of secret abuse, which seems overplayed in fiction. The book is well-written, but the material won’t stay with me; it feels too much like things I’ve seen elsewhere.

Matthew Quick previously wrote The Silver Linings Playbook, which (based on the movie) has similar themes and structure. Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock is aimed at younger readers. (The publisher provided a digital review copy.)

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