The novel is narrated by Leonard Peacock himself (yes, that’s his real name), on his 18th birthday. He doesn’t expect anyone to remember his birthday, but he has his own plans for commemorating it: shooting first his ex-best friend/current bully, Asher, and then himself with his grandfather’s old gun from WWII. It’s clear from the start that Leonard is hurting and has been tormented somehow by Asher, but his past, his pain, and his motives only gradually come to light.
Along with the gun, Leonard also fills his backpack with four gifts that he has carefully wrapped for the four people he considers friends. He wants to leave each of them something meaningful to remember him by, as a thank you and a kind of apology for “not sticking around longer,” as he puts it. Those friends who’ve touched his life include a grumpy, elderly neighbor with whom he watches old Humphrey Bogart movies; a violin prodigy at his school whose music has touched him; a gorgeous teen girl he has a crush on who is an Evangelical Christian and wants to convert him; and his Holocaust Class teacher, whom Leonard suspects has secrets of his own.
The entire novel takes place in a single day. At first, Leonard’s joking, brash voice is only disturbing, even disgusting, to the reader, as he plans his murder/suicide. Soon, though, you realize that underneath the bravado, Leonard is scared and feeling hopeless, having been humiliated (by exactly what, we don’t know), and feeling as if this is the only way out. His father left, his mother mostly lives in Manhattan, 2 hours away, to further her fashion career and spend time with her boyfriend, and Leonard truly feels abandoned.
At this point, you are probably thinking that this sounds like a horribly depressing book, but it isn’t. Quick’s talent is to take a rarely-discussed subject, like teen suicide, and open it up to the sunlight, investigating it with warmth, humanity, and even a bit of humor. As Leonard goes about his day, the reader is not only eager to find out what’s behind his desperation but also hopeful that one of Leonard’s gift recipients – or anyone else he comes in contact with that day – will see his desperation and reach out to help him, to save him. You can tell that deep down inside, this is what Leonard wants, too. That sense of hope, alongside desperation, pervades the entire book.
Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock is one of the most emotionally powerful novels I’ve ever read. It touched me deeply, and I still think about it and its characters, months later. Hearing the story on audio, narrated by Leonard himself, was especially powerful, though I see that the paper book has its own advantages, as Leonard has heavily footnoted his narrative (the footnotes were read on the audio, though I didn’t realize they were footnotes). The story moves along quickly, with suspense building as Leonard gets closer and closer to his final goal for that day, with the reader thinking that surely someone will notice and reach out to him.
Teen shootings and suicides are rampant in our modern world, so there must be a lot of Leonard Peacocks out there who need someone to notice their pain and reach out to help them. This warm, moving, important novel should be required reading for everyone on the planet.
(I downloaded this audio book free through the SYNC program - be sure to check it out next summer!)
Matthew Quick's introduction to his novel:
Listen to an audiobook excerpt here.