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Book Review

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements

Conclusion

Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Leonard Peacock has big plans for his 18th birthday. He’s going to kill his childhood friend Asher Beal, and then himself with his grandfather’s Nazi-era P38 handgun. Leonard is a depressed teen who envisions a hopeless future. Sometimes he skips school and rides the subway just to watch adults going to and from work. They don’t look happy in either direction.

He thinks a lot about German atrocities since he’s taking a Holocaust class in school. These adults remind him of Jews being put on trains and taken to death camps. He remembers his teacher, Herr Silverman, saying some people killed themselves or their families just to avoid being taken away. Leonard concludes that he doesn’t know anyone over 18 who wouldn’t be better off dead. In his annotated narrative, he begs adults to prove to him that life really does get better.

No one has remembered Leonard’s birthday. His father fled the country some time ago when his gambling debts caught up with him. His mother spends most of her time in a New York apartment to advance her fashion design career. She’s having an affair with a Frenchman and rarely comes home.

Leonard’s relationships with teachers are tense, except for the one he was with Herr Silverman. He has few acquaintances, let alone friends, who would even know his birthday. The fact that no one acknowledges this monumental day solidifies his belief that life isn’t worth living. Leonard reveals late in the story that Asher Beal raped and abused him for two years when he was younger. This is why Asher must die with him.

Before he dies, Leonard wants to give gifts to the few individuals who have impacted his life. His first gift is one presented out of spite: He cuts off all of his long blond hair and leaves it for his mother. He then visits his elderly neighbor Walt, his Iranian classmate Baback, and a beautiful Christian home-schooler named Lauren.

When Leonard moved to the neighborhood, Walt introduced him to Humphry Bogart. Since that time, the two have spent countless hours watching Bogie films and speaking to each other in code using movie quotes. Leonard gives Walt a fedora and lies, saying it was a prop from a Bogart film. Walt comments on the boy’s missing hair and strange behavior, but Leonard hides his emotions and heads to school.

For several years, Leonard has spent his lunch breaks listening to Baback practice his violin in the empty auditorium. Leonard is mesmerized by the young man’s musical talent. Baback once suggested they hang out sometime, but Leonard said no. He told Baback it might complicate things and ruin his ability to enjoy Baback’s music if they were to become friends.

On Leonard’s birthday, he gives Baback a six-figure check for the violinist’s favorite Iranian relief organization. The gift is Leonard’s entire college fund. Baback thinks Leonard is taunting him when he sees the check, and he walks out on Leonard without playing.

After what he expects will be his last Holocaust class, Leonard gives Herr Silverman his grandfather’s Bronze Star medal. Herr Silverman senses Leonard may be suicidal and gives the boy his cell number. Leonard tells Herr Silverman how he’s always wondered why he never rolled up his shirt sleeves like other teachers. Herr Silverman promises to share the secret with Leonard if he will call rather than doing himself any harm.

Leonard visits Lauren where he always finds her, on the street passing out religious tracts. When he first saw her, he was so taken by her classical beauty that he decided he wanted to kiss her. He pursued her as she continued to try to convert him to Christianity. He went to church with her once, and he tried to ask a lot of questions about her faith when he’d see her on the street.

Leonard’s questions disturbed the innocent girl, who could only regurgitate what she had been taught by her pastor father. On his birthday, Leonard gives her a cross necklace. He says God told him to buy it for her. He also kisses her without her consent. She is offended and leaves.

Having presented all of his gifts, Leonard stands outside Asher’s window. He recalls how he and Asher were once good friends. Then an uncle took Asher on a fishing trip. When the boy returned, he was different. He began emotionally bullying Leonard into performing sexual acts with him. It took Leonard two years to stand up for himself enough to make Asher stop.

Asher went on to become popular but mean. He bullied people, including Baback, who were different. Leonard watches Asher sitting in his room masturbating. The boy looks so pathetic, Leonard actually feels sorry for him. He decides he can’t go through with the murder but will still kill himself. He puts the gun to his head and pulls the trigger—but the gun doesn’t fire.

He calls Herr Silverman, who comes to meet him. Herr Silverman reveals his secret is a tattoo of a pink triangle, a symbol of his homosexuality. He tries to encourage Leonard to write letters to his future self and believe that life will get better in time. Leonard actually has written several such letters to himself. In them, he hears from his wonderful wife and daughter who deeply love him. In this imagined future, they live on Outpost 37 in a post-war America. Almost everything has been covered by water, and they swim through the ruins of the city with dolphins.

Herr Silverman takes Leonard back to his apartment, to his partner’s chagrin, and calls Leonard’s mom. She comes home the next day but laughs off Leonard’s problems. Leonard still wonders if he should have killed himself, but the letters he writes to himself from his future wife and daughter give him hope to keep going.

Christian Beliefs

Lauren is a home-schooled Christian girl, the daughter of a pastor. She passes out tracts on the street and tells people Jesus loves them. Her tone is dogmatic and desperate. Leonard mocks her archaic tract as he describes it in detail: Several teenagers are “parking” and thinking about how they’re doing things Jesus wouldn’t like. They crash the car after drinking alcohol. One boy dies and goes to the pearly gates. Jesus says his friends died, too. They didn’t make it to heaven because he failed to convert them to Christianity.

Leonard says the pamphlet should have tipped him off that Lauren was insane and that he should stay away from her. Lauren repeatedly tries to convince Leonard to accept Jesus. He portrays her as a naïve sheep. He says she’s living in a fairy tale, is tethered to religion and is out of touch with reality. Leonard is distressed by Lauren’s judgmental spirit when he gives money to a street person and she says it will just get spent on drugs or alcohol. He does admire her honest desire to save people, even though he says there is no real threat. Because he’s enchanted by her innocence, he wants her to believe in God, the way adults want little kids to believe in Santa. He asks her to pray for him, and she says she will every day.

When his feelings about suicide start to surface, he’s convinced she has stopped praying for him. Leonard attends church with her once. He likes the fact that they sing together and mention members who need help. He admits he doesn’t understand how an all-powerful God could be so needy of people’s worship. The pastors address him smugly and skeptically, saying he can talk to them when he’s ready to be serious about Jesus. They can see he’s interested in Lauren rather than faith. When Lauren can’t answer Leonard’s hard questions about pain, poverty and other issues in the world, her father tells her he’s asking dangerous questions. Leonard says God is BS. He mocks Lauren’s beliefs to her face and in his inner monologue. Leonard believes people like the Pope won’t exist in the future.

Other Belief Systems

Leonard says he just wants to feel himself float into nothingness when he dies.

Authority Roles

Leonard’s absentee dad was a minor rock star. He is a drug and alcohol addict whose gambling got him in trouble with the law. Leonard’s mother is a fashion designer who stays mostly in her New York City apartment with her French lover. When someone suggests she get therapy for him, she refuses on the grounds that she, the mother, will be blamed for everything.

Herr Silverman respects and praises Leonard. He recognizes Leonard’s potential. He puts his job and relationship with his partner on the line to keep Leonard from killing himself. Walt shows his friendship and concern by sharing his time and love of Bogart with Leonard. Most grown-ups Leonard encounters, from zombie-like adults on the subway to school teachers to pastors at Lauren’s church, ignore him or treat him with distain.

Profanity/Violence

Curse words including the f-word and s--- appear frequently. The Lord’s name is used in vain. Several slurs including the n-word and f-ggot appear. Characters use the words a--, bulls---, h---, crap, d--n, b--tard, screw, b--ch, p---, hard on, c--k, j-rking off, d--k, and orgy.

Leonard shares many facts about the Nazis and their atrocities that he’s learning in Herr Silverman’s class.

Leonard sometimes describes his plans for the murder-suicide in gory detail. He does internet research to determine how long it takes someone to die after slitting his wrists. He learns that sometimes it doesn’t work and can be very painful and bloody. He stops short of giving readers details about what he’s learned is the “right” way to slit one’s wrists. Asher and other kids cruelly bully an Iranian student.

Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality

Sex, masturbation, erections, rape and molestation are mentioned. Some of these topics are discussed frequently and/or in detail. The future wife Leonard creates in his letters repeatedly tells him they have lots of sex in the future. Leonard gets an erection when sitting near Lauren.

Asher’s uncle abuses him on a fishing trip, which starts Asher abusing Leonard. As Leonard looks through Asher’s window, preparing to kill him, he sees Asher masturbating. He begins to feel a little sorry for his old friend. Leonard says he doesn’t care if people think he’s gay. He knows his mom thinks he is because she once walked in to find him and Asher naked.

Later, he repeatedly says he is not gay after he tells Herr Silverman about Asher. Herr Silverman admits his homosexuality to Leonard and shows him his tattoo of a pink triangle. This was a symbol used in Nazi death camps to label homosexuals. Herr Silverman lives with his male partner.

Leonard says the kids his teachers like are the ones who are really driving drunk and committing date rape. Herr Silverman tells his students how women and children in Nazi death camps often had to be sex slaves. Leonard is sorry Walt was part of a generation where everyone was prejudiced against minorities and homosexuals.

Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Substance use/Addictions: Leonard’s dad has alcohol, drug and gambling addictions that have gotten him in trouble with the law. Walt is a drinker and heavy smoker. Leonard suggests adults turn to alcohol because they can’t get natural highs the way kids can.

Lying: Leonard lies as much as he tells the truth. He admits that he frequently says, “I swears to God” when he’s lying.

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Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book's review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

Episode Reviews

Credits

Rating

Readability Age Range

14 to 19

Author

Matthew Quick

Cast

Director

Distributor

Network

Performance

Record Label

Platform

Publisher

Little, Brown and Company, a division of Hachette Book Group Inc.

Released

On Video

Year Published

2013

Awards

Unknown

Reviewer

We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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