It’s never a good idea to categorize people, but for this review I’m going to anyway. There are the people who loved high school, there’s the people who could deal with it without being completely traumatized, and then there’s the rest of us.
If you’re in the last group, this book will resonate. It’s about Leonard Peacock, a high school senior, who decides on his eighteenth birthday that he’s going to kill a student and then himself. He has his last day all planned out. He has a few gifts to give to his friends and then he’s outta there.
The P-38 WWII Nazi handgun looks comical lying on the breakfast table next to a bowl of oatmeal. It’s like some weird steampunk utensil anachronism. But if you look very closely just above the handle you can see the tiny stamped swastika and the eagle perched on top, which is real as hell.
I take a photo of my place setting with my iPhone, thinking it could be both evidence and modern art.
Then I laugh my ass off looking at it on the miniscreen, because modern art is such bullshit.
Quick is the author of several books for young adults, and he also wrote The Silver Linings Playbook. Like that one, Quick has created a character with a unique voice, one you may not want to like. After all, it’s hard to like a guy who opens a story saying he’s going to kill someone.
As I read I kept thinking, there’s no way I can review this book. It felt really raw to me. I’ve said about some books it doesn’t really matter whether it was written to be Young Adult (YA) or adult. This book is clearly YA – and yet I think every adult should probably read it.
Leonard is a kid who wants desperately to believe that life will get better. Unfortunately he looks around at the adults he knows, and he doesn’t think so. Once in a while, he ditches school and spends his morning on the subway. He watches the people on the train, with their suits and unhappy expressions, who don’t talk to anyone around them.
I know this will sound wrong, but whenever I wear my funeral suit, go to the train station, and pretend I have a job in the city, it always makes me think of the Nazi trains that took the World War II Jews to the death camps. What Herr Silverman taught us about. I know that’s a horrible and maybe even offensive comparison, but waiting there on the platform, among the suits, I feel like I’m just waiting to go to some horrible place where everything good ends and then misery ensues forever and ever and ever – which reminds me of the awful stories we learned in Holocaust class, whether it’s offensive or not.
As one of those people on the train every day, Leonard’s perspective fascinated me. Did my life get better after high school? Absolutely. But I doubt you’d know that from watching me trudge to work in the morning, and I guess that says something. It also says a lot about what it means to be 18 and wondering desperately if there’s a reason to hope. To Leonard, it doesn’t look like life gets any better. Adults tell him it will, but he doesn’t see any evidence of it. What he sees is that adults lie. (By the way, this book is absolutely NOT criticizing the “It Gets Better Project”, which I think is amazing. That campaign, which is about kids being bullied for being gay, is indirectly referenced in this book.)
A teacher suggests Leonard write himself letters from people who love him in the future. These letters are amazing.
Okay, at times this book reads like a what to do (or not to do) for high school teachers and guidance counselors. And if you’re a teacher or guidance counselor, I’d love to know what you thought about this book. It floored me.
The one – small – thing that nearly kept me from reading this book was the excessive use of footnotes, which I have to say I hate in a novel. I tended to just skip over them and read them at the end, because it was distracting going back and forth (and screwed up the “furthest page read” feature on my Kindle). The footnotes are clever and yes, they are part of Leonard’s voice. But for me they detract from the story. Quick makes the mistake of putting some important story information in some of the footnotes, which annoyed me even more. If it’s important, put it IN THE NARRATIVE.
There, I’ve ranted.
I think Matthew Quick is a fascinating writer, because while I don’t think he’ll win awards for his writing style, he’s creating powerful, unique, at times devastating characters. So I’ll definitely read more.
In short: if you loved high school, you probably won’t get Leonard. But for the rest of us, I can highly recommend this book.