Forgive Me Leonard Peacock, Matthew Quick

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Much has been made lately of the precarious state of mental health of our young people. With school shootings frequently in the news, the high-profile suicides of young people suffering from depression and bullying, and the rise in diagnosed cases of anxiety disorder in youth, there is reason to be concerned. If you've spent any time with teenagers lately, you've probably noticed heightened levels of stress, from friendships to dating to college admissions. And anyone who has dealt with the aftermath of a teen suicide, as I have in both my personal life and my professional life, knows the devastation they cause.

It is this very timely, very deep subject that Matthew Quick takes on in his YA novel Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock. On Leonard Peacock's birthday, he packs a loaded gun in his backpack, intending to kill first his former best friend and then himself. But before he can do that, he has to say goodbye to the four people in his life he cares about-his elderly neighbor Walt; his "friend" Baback, the violin prodigy; the Christian homeschooler he's in love with, Lauren; and his favorite teacher, Herr Silverman. As he talks to these four people throughout the course of the day, he slowly reveals the secrets he's been holding onto that have led him to this point.

The book is well-written, well-paced, and emotionally impactful pretty much from the jump. One of the very first things we learn about Leonard is that he plans to commit a murder/suicide, so you know up front that you are probably in for a dark ride. I spent most of the book cycling from sadness to anger and back to sadness again, but in a good way. I was completely drawn into the story in a way that I don't always achieve. I essentially read it in one sitting, and I'm pretty sure the house could have caught on fire while I was reading and I wouldn't have noticed.

Quick doesn't pull punches with this story. Leonard is an extremely sympathetic character, and his first-person narration allows the reader to experience how disturbed his mind truly is. His reasoning and logic are heartbreaking and wrong, but as you read you begin to understand the pain and confusion the secret he carries is causing him. With no outlet, traumatic experiences can quickly become poison to the soul, eating away at a person until all they can feel is the sickness and the desire for it to be over. With Leonard, you get to see this poison working as he tries to come to terms with what he plans to do.


This book is a book about sexual violence. It is a book about a male rape victim, and the aftermath of that rape. While it does not contain actual sexual violence, the subject is present in every aspect of the book, even before you actually find out why Leonard wants to kill his former best friend. Despite the best friend's behavior and Leonard's murderous intent, you can't help but feel sad and sorry for both of them.

In the end, Leonard's teacher, one of the four people he says good-bye to, figures out what's happening and stops him from following through. However, instead of taking him to an emergency room or calling child protective services, he takes Leonard to his own house and then gives him back to the mother that was so out-of-touch she wasn't even one of the four people Leonard cared about in the world. What the what?!? As a teacher myself, it is COMPLETELY inappropriate not to report Leonard's suicidal actions, nor should you take a MENTALLY DAMAGED TEEN WHO WAS RAPED BY A MALE into your home as a male teacher. Not only could that be triggering for the victim, it opens the teacher up to accusations of inappropriate student contact that could be career ending. I can't think of one teacher I know who would react the way this teacher does, and I know a LOT of teachers. While Herr Silverman has good intentions, his "It get's better" advice only goes so far without actual mental health care for this kid. Other than this rather unrealistic portrayal of what would and should happen if a student discloses suicidal thoughts to a teacher, the story is a haunting look at how sexual violence affects the victims, and how depression, trauma, and despair can convince a person that life isn't worth living. I would not necessarily recommend it for use as a whole class novel, but as part of a student book club, or maybe in a social work setting, I could see this book affecting young people in a really powerful way.

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