FORGIVE ME, LEONARD PEACOCK is the story of Leonard Peacock’s eighteenth birthday, on which he intends to shoot his high school nemesis, and then shoot himself.
Heartbreaking and life-affirming in unexpected ways, this is an unflinching portrait of how a person can feel like their humanity has been steadily stripped away from them; in this case, a teen who hopes this will be the last day of his life. It holds nothing back, and tells the truth, weaving in a vivid cast of characters in Leonard’s life as it does so, in a beautifully authentic story. It also has some fresh, completely unexpected narrative tricks up its sleeve that rock you out of your expectations, and ultimately make you feel… all the feels, as they say.
In the manner of a more snarky, introspective Jack Bauer, we follow Leonard, 24-style, as the day unfolds, class by class, hour by hour, flashback by flashback, and the pressure and tension mount. His voice is acerbic, angry, hurt, lonely, yet also witty, humane, and understanding. He’s an amazing creation. The writing, the craft on display here, is fantastic. Quick is a brilliant writer, able to take his own humanity and understanding and turn it, incredibly skillfully, into a page-turner that is completely grounded in the narrator’s inner world, as well as the perfectly evoked Philly/NJ setting.
Quick has said that Leonard’s depressed, rage-filled voice came to him when he was relaxing in Paris on his first trip to the city with his wife; it was a voice that he could not ignore, despite the beautiful surroundings, and thank goodness, because this is one of the greatest YA contemporary novels ever written.
It also proves something essential about writers: we should never, ever ignore the voices in our heads. That’s what it feels like sometimes (all the time); our stories come to us unbidden, begging for our attention. If we don’t give it to them, they can just fade away again, like lonely ghosts. Having ideas is one thing; actually grabbing them and following through on them is a whole other thing. As Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour replied when he was asked if he thought he was getting better at playing as time went by: “I’m not getting better, but I think I’m better at capturing the good moments and hanging onto them.” Listening to the muse and doing what she says is critical, in life as well as in writing. Like J.K. Rowling, for whom Harry Potter and the seven-volume plotlines marched into her head during a train journey — if you don’t capture and explore it, you’ll never know where it could take you.
Quick certainly captured this story, and with Leonard’s unique and transformative perspective on his life, it makes you see everything differently in yours. In that sense, it’s a book that can change the world; a book that everyone should be shouting from the rooftops about. It’s also a massively compelling, terrifying, wild, emotion-shaking ride, which is what YA needs to be (and ideally, what all literature would be). It’s amazing when all those things are true of one book. So, please, do yourselves a favor: read this now, and then go tell everyone how brilliant it is.