What parents need to know
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock is a book about the title character planning to murder his former best friend and then kill himself with a Nazi gun he inherited from his grandfather. This gritty, poignant coming-of-age story has lots of mature content, including the revelation that a boy was raped for years by a friend (who himself was sexually assaulted by an adult). Boys in PE class bully a Persian kid with hockey sticks until he's nearly unconscious. A boy pressures a girl sexually, continuing to kiss her even after she tells him to stop, and he later sees his friend masturbate in his room. Leonard's elderly neighbor smokes heavily and uses racist epithets, including the "N" word, and strong language is used heavily throughout (including "s--t," "f--k," and "a--hole"). There's a lot here that teens will find painful and distressing, but there's hope, too: Leonard's teacher tells him, "I know how hard being different can be. But I also know how powerful a weapon being different can be. How the world needs such weapons. Gandhi was different. All great people are."
What's the story?
On Leonard Peacock's 18th birthday, the brilliant but broken teen plans to murder his former best friend and then kill himself. He spends the day giving out gifts to the few people he cares about -- including his elderly, Humphrey Bogart-obsessed next door neighbor; a beautiful Christian girl who has tried to convert him; and his wonderful Holocaust teacher -- slowly revealing to readers the traumas that have brought him to this tragic moment and why he is \"hoping that I merely cease to exist.\" Even so, readers will understand that, even on his darkest day, Leonard is looking for an excuse to continue living: Within his narration, he includes pretend letters that he's written from loved ones in the future, telling him to hold on (even these letters paint a tragic post-nuclear future, but there, Leonard has a family and a job that lets him swim with mutant dolphins and \"live in the moment\" with those who understand him).
Is it any good?
FORGIVE ME, LEONARD PEACOCK is a carefully constructed coming-of-age story in the same vein as The Catcher in the Rye. Like Catcher's Holden, Leonard is in pain and frustrated by a hypocritical society but doesn't know how to connect with people, and he often puts off even the people he cares about. There are strikingly realistic and painful scenes throughout, such as Leonard's failed attempt to get his mostly absent mother to make him chocolate-chip banana pancakes. Readers will be especially moved and mesmerized by his beautiful but rather melancholy hopes for his own future.
The material is mature, but Leonard's story could lead to many provocative conversations about a wide range of topics including teen bullying, sexual abuse, violence, and suicide -- and how to help those outside the mainstream feel connected and appreciated.
Families can talk about...
Families can talk about Leonard's teacher's message that "[a]ll great people are [different]." What do you think of this idea?
Do you think books about teen suicide help raise awareness and contribute to suicide prevention? What others have you read that have been popular and influential?
Leonard accuses his classmates of "head-in-the-sand logic," meaning they don't want to know how things really work so long as they get what they want. Do you think that's a fair assessment of American teen culture?