Matthew Quick’s “Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock”

(This review contains minor spoilers. Read at your own discretion.)

In year 11, I did a presentation on the Columbine shooting. A lot of effort and research went into it. I did my best to explain what and why it had happened. I listed different reasons, possible causes, and the many impacts it had towards the future of the United States. I tried to be logical and sensible with as many details as I could. But there was only so much I could do to explain the tragedy. I came to the conclusion (though I didn’t say it aloud during my presentation) that the best way to really know why is to see things through the eyes of the perpetrator. Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock is probably as close as we can get to any sort of closure on this kind of event.

The summary on Goodreads says:

“Today is Leonard Peacock’s birthday. It is also the day he hides a gun in his backpack. Because today is the day he will kill his former best friend, and then himself, with his grandfather’s P-38 pistol.

But first he must say good-bye to the four people who matter most to him: his Humphrey Bogart-obsessed next-door neighbour, Walt; his classmate, Baback, a violin virtuoso; Lauren, the Christian homeschooler he has a crush on; and Herr Silverman, who teaches the high school’s class on the Holocaust. Speaking to each in turn, Leonard slowly reveals his secrets as the hours tick by and the moment of truth approaches.”

Leonard takes the stage, front and centre, right from the start. We get a strong sense of his character through his voice—it’s captivating and morbidly intimate. He has a bit of a superiority complex, but he’s not pretentious. He constantly projects his thoughts and feelings onto others. He says things carelessly and thoughtlessly. He manipulates and guilt-trips people. He’s going to die soon, anyway, so he feels entitled to do whatever he wants.

But his asshole-ish behaviour is merely a façade, a symptom of his ‘mission’. In reality, he’s lonely, confused, and desperate. His delinquency is a cry for help. He’s waiting for a sign to tell him not to do everything he’s about to do, that it’s all going to turn out alright in the end, so he can just stop this nonsense and go live his life in peace—whatever peace may be. But he doesn’t know what it looks like or what he’s waiting for in the first place and that scares him. And so he continues with his ‘mission’.

“And yet at the same time, I want someone to figure it out, to piece together all the hints I’ve been dropping all day long, for years and years even, but no one ever figures it out, and I’m beginning to see why people go mad and do awful things.”

There’s a huge amount of psychology that can’t be summarised in a single review, but I’d be lying if I said I don’t understand Leonard or relate to him. In some parts, anyway. I get why he does certain things. I see the logic behind his words. Some of them even resonate with me. Make of that what you will.

Not all of this book is dedicated to doom and gloom, though. There are bits of humour in it that had me chuckling, mostly at the expense of Leonard’s brief encounter with Christianity (he’s a devout atheist, so this may not go down well with those who are, you know, not). The chapters are interspersed with letters entitled ‘Letters From the Future’ that provides an outlook of a deeper, more concealed side of Leonard—his hopeful side. The letters reveal what he wishes his future was like. It’s filled with things he wants to see and hear: people supporting him openly and loving him unconditionally. My favourite letter was the one from his future daughter. There’s something about a child telling you to hold on and that they love you that’s different than when other people say it. I guess it’s because kids mean what they say most of the time, even if they don’t know it sometimes. And in their eyes, sometimes you’re their hero.

“Writing those letters made me feel even more fucked-up.”

“Why?”

“I got to thinking that I wanted to live in that fictional world now—that the better world in the letters made me want to exit this world. That’s probably what led to me being here with a gun in my hand.”

This book makes you ask questions about your own life. If you knew you were going to die—by choice—sometime in the near future, would you stick around until the end? Would you allow yourself to be saved when given the chance? Who would you say goodbye to? What would you want to do or give to them to remember you by? Why them?

I’d be lying if I said I don’t think about this every now and again.

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock is a harrowing tale of morality, depression, life, death, and hope, different from most YA books I’ve read so far. It makes you ask questions about life and death and you’ll put the book down for a moment to think about it. There is a certain allure to its prose that makes it all the more engrossing and will have you on the edge of your seat and flicking through one page after another.

If you’ve made it this far into my post, then thank you for reading! Have you read this book? If so, what did you think? And if not, would you be interested in doing so? Let me know what you think and feel free to share any recommendations below.

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