Red cover of Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock with the title written in big letters in white and gray

About the Book

Title: Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock
Published: 2013
Swoonworthy Scale: 2

Cover Story: Like A Mothereffing Adult
BFF Charm: Platinum Edition
Talky Talk: Hurt So Good
Bonus Factors: Non-After School Special, Footnotes, Bogart, Ms. Norbury Award for Rad Teachers
Anti-Bonus Factor: Dan Scott Award for Awful Parenting
Relationship Status: I Think This Is The Beginning Of A Beautiful Friendship

Cover Story: Like A Mothereffing Adult

This is the kind of cover that accidentally* lands a YA book in the adult section. No emo teen faces! No Gothic font! Just straight up excellent design that allows the compelling title and the author’s notable name to do the heavy lifting.

*Or not so accidentally. Some YAngelists might say that this would be an excellent tactic to trick an adult into reading YA. And by “some YAngelists,” I mean me, and by “might say,” I mean everyone should do this and LET’S START A REVOLUTION.

The Deal:

Before we go any further, I want you to make a deal with me. Promise that you’ll read this review in its entirety, and not stop when you hit the part about a teen with a gun and think, “I just can’t handle something this serious right now,” or “I read books to escape, not to get depressed.” Because you can handle it, and you won’t be depressed, I swear. Deal? Deal.

So Leonard Peacock’s life is preeeeetty shitty. His washed-up musician dad left the family years ago, and his mom only cares about her fashion career and her reflection in the mirror. Leonard is alone most of the time, unless he’s over at his elderly next door neighbor Walt’s house watching Humphrey Bogart movies. He’s an outcast at school, where his only friend is Herr Silverman, his Holocaust class teacher, and where his classmate Asher Beal fans the flames of Leonard’s already hellish existence.

But all of that is about to change. Because Leonard has a gun, and in celebration of his birthday, he’s about to give himself—and Asher—a permanent present.

BFF Charm: Platinum Edition

BFF platinum charm

There are a few sections in the book in which people from Leonard’s future write him letters. In the spirit of those chapters, I’ve decided to write my own message.

Letter From The Future, Number 5

Dear Leonard,

Dude, I am not joking (nor am I making a pun in poor taste) when I say that you are KILLING IT here in the future. In fact, I would be jealous of your tremendous writing talent, not to mention your darkly genius sense of humor, if you weren’t such a good guy. I’m super thankful that we met, since our conversations have changed my life. You’re special, Leonard, and even though I wouldn’t wish your adolescence on anyone, I’m constantly blown away by how adversity has only made you stronger. It’s like you’ve been using your emotional baggage for weight-lifting.

I love that you’re weird, because I’m weird too. And you’re constantly cracking me up, whether you’re offering commentary on organized religion or waxing philosophical on how adulthood can kill your soul.

I know things suck, really suck, for the teenage Leonard, but believe me when I say that in the future, people will appreciate you. People will remember your birthday. People will see you for the incredible human being that you are, and they will salute you.

And that future is not as far away as you think. In fact, it’s happening now. Right now.

P.S. A little advice, as someone who knows you down the road—don’t grow out your hair again. Those long locks aren’t doing you any favors.

Swoonworthy Scale: 2

Although Leonard isn’t a typical young adult in many ways, he’s still got raging hormones, and he’s focused on winning the affections of Lauren, a beautiful blonde who just so happens to be an evangelical Christian. Their relationship isn’t actually romantic, which is fine by me, since I was too busy being fascinated by their interactions. Torn between a desire to comprehend the contents of Lauren’s brain and the contents of her pants, Leonard embarks on a tour through the complicated world of theology, and the results are both hilarious and gut-wrenching.

Talky Talk: Hurt So Good

Pro-tip: Never, ever play Paper Rock Scissors with Matthew Quick. Because he will always win with paper. You could have the sharpest pair of finger scissors, and dude will come out of nowhere with a piercing page of words and DESTROY YOU.

Leonard’s voice is disarming in its authenticity, a sarcastic consciousness bristling with sharp edges that occasionally reveal a soft, sensitive center. With observations that can devastate you one minute and delight you the next, Leonard’s character deftly treads the tightrope stretched between the ordinary and the extraordinary. There are times when his insights are incredibly profound:

Did you ever think about all of the nights you lived through and can’t remember at all? The ones that were so mundane your brain just didn’t bother to record them. Hundreds, maybe thousands of nights come and go without being preserved by our memory. Does that ever freak you out? Like maybe your mind recorded all of the wrong nights?

And then there are times when his thoughts are profoundly funny, like in this passage when he’s describing a religious tract that Lauren gave him:

The pamphlet shows a sober Johnny in heaven speaking to Jesus, who has a typical Jesus beard and white robe and halo, but Jesus kind of looks like a professional baseball player to me and I’m not sure why. He has the baseball player look with shaggy hair and a beard, but he’s clean-cut at the same time. Not like a hillbilly or anything. Do you know what I mean?

From the get-go, Quick slips you into Leonard’s mind and never lets you even consider the possibility of leaving.  By the end, not only will you understand a school shooter, you will identify with him, and that, ultimately, is the true testament to Quick’s power as an author.

Bonus Factor: Non-After School Special

Old ad for an After School Special with a red X over it

This book tackles a wide range of controversial topics, from bullying to suicide to sexual abuse, and yet it never, ever feels preachy or condescending.

Bonus Factor: Footnotes

A footnote describing footnotes in a book

Leonard’s narrative naturally includes a ton of offhand remarks which are organized as footnotes. And they are MY FAVORITE.

Bonus Factor: Bogart

Screenshot from Casablanca of Humphrey Bogart, wearing a fedora, trench coat and tie

Humphrey Bogart stands firmly at the center of Leonard and Walt’s friendship. They’ve spent countless hours watching all of his classic films to the point that they can quote lines to each other at the drop of a (fedora) hat, not to mention the fact that Bogart basically serves as Leonard’s role model for handling the opposite sex. It’s downright adorable, and I would memorize every single one of Lauren Bacall’s lines if it meant I could be friends with Walt.

Bonus Factor: Ms. Norbury Award for Rad Teachers

Tina Fey as Ms. Norbury, the awesome match teacher in Mean Girls

Herr Silverman is one of the best teachers I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting in fiction. He’s compassionate, charismatic and subversive as hell, and he deserves a thousand Oh Captain, My Captains.

Anti-Bonus Factor: Dan Scott Award for Awful Parenting

Evil Dan Scott from One Tree Hill

Ugh, Leonard’s mom Linda is THE WORST. I want to facepunch her so hard, not only to express my anger but also in the hopes of permanently disfiguring her perfect nose.

Relationship Status: I Think This Is The Beginning Of A Beautiful Friendship

Bursting with intensity and sobering themes, this book didn’t initially seem like my cup of tea. In fact, there were times when it went out of its way to wreck me. But when faced with darkness, we banded together, and now I can’t imagine my life without it. This book challenges the way I think and inspires the way I live, and I’m honored to walk into the foggy uncertainty of the future with it by my side.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received my free review copy from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. This review was originally posted on Kirkus Reviews in exchange for monetary compensation, which did not affect or influence my opinions.

Sarah lives in Austin, and believes there is no such thing as a guilty pleasure, which is part of why she started FYA in 2009. Growing up, she thought she was a Mary Anne, but she's finally starting to accept the fact that she's actually a Kristy.