Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock

My latest read has been on my to-read list for quite a while, and I finally picked it up this weekend. I finished reading it yesterday after work, and I’m still sorting out my feelings on it. My initial reaction, though, is that I love it, and I wish it had been around when I was in high school.

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock is not what I would call an easy read, though the pages seem to fly by. It deals with some uncomfortable–even horrifying–situations, many of which adults would like to imagine teens don’t think about or deal with. This book treats those situations in a realistic way and gives a look into the mind of a teenage boy who is essentially at the end of his rope.

This book also does something that all excellent books do. It makes the reader think. (Some people seem to be uncomfortable with this as well. Just take a look at the current political climate in the U.S.) My hope is that readers–both adult and young adult–will look at this book and examine their own attitudes toward those who may be considered outcasts, weirdos, loners, etc. One never knows what someone else is going through, what drove them to this point, or how they often wish for someone to acknowledge their pain.

Today is Leonard Peacock’s birthday. It’s also the day he’s going to die. After he’s said his goodbyes today–to the only people who really matter to him–he’ll kill his former friend, Asher Beal, turn his grandfather’s gun on himself, and “shuffle off this mortal coil.”

As Leonard goes about his day, readers gradually begin to understand what is driving Leonard’s actions. They see how his parents have all but abandoned him. They see how he’s treated at school. They see how Leonard doesn’t think or act like most other kids. Most importantly, they see just what happened between Leonard and Asher Beal. Leonard has very good reason to hate Asher, but does that reason warrant Asher’s death…or Leonard’s?

The moment of reckoning grows closer, and Leonard must decide if he’s going to follow through with his plans. Will he actually use his grandfather’s gun to kill Asher and himself? Is there anyone who will notice that Leonard is a truly desperate young man? Will he reach out to someone and seek the help he needs? Is there any hope left that things will ever get better? I’m afraid you’ll have to discover those answers yourself…


I think that anyone who’s ever felt misunderstood, isolated, or excluded will, in some way, identify with Leonard Peacock. (This may not be a welcome realization for a lot of adults. I submit that those adults have either forgotten what it’s like to be a teenager, or they bear some responsibility in making others feel like dirt.) Readers may not have gone through exactly what Leonard did–though some most certainly have–but they may recognize and sympathize with Leonard’s feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, and apathy. By encountering these feelings through fiction, maybe those readers can begin to work through some of the issues troubling them and begin to seek help. On the other end of the equation, perhaps this book will help others realize that they never really know how their actions–or inactions–influence those around them.

I’m going to stop now before I say too much (even though I may have already done that). If you’d like to learn more about Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock and other novels by Matthew Quick, check out the author’s website. You can also connect with him on Facebook and Twitter.

My Heart and Other Black Holes

I’ve now read four of the twenty books nominated for next year’s South Carolina Young Adult Book Award, and I’m sensing a theme. Three of the four books I’ve read deal, in some form or fashion, with suicide. That includes my latest read, My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga. (The other two books are The Last Time We Say Goodbye and All the Bright Places.) I don’t know if any of the other nominees deal with suicide, but I’m kind of hoping for something different as I continue to make my way through the list.

Moving on…

My Heart and Other Black Holes is a good book, and the author definitely captures what it feels like to deal with depression. Both of the major characters are extremely sympathetic, and it’s easy to see why they feel the way they do.

Aysel has two interests: physics and planning her own death. After her father commits a heinous crime, Aysel feels like a pariah in her town, her school, and even within her own family. She’s scared that whatever demon had hold of her father is also inside of her, and she wants to end the pain before she causes even more.

Aysel worries that when she finally does decide to end it all that she won’t be successful, so she looks for a suicide partner on a website called Smooth Passages. She finds that partner in Roman, a boy in a nearby town who is battling demons of his own.

Roman has a deadline for his suicide. April 7th, the one-year anniversary of his little sister’s death. As long as Aysel is willing to do the deed on that date–and not flake out on him–he agrees to be her partner.

So these two very different teens begin to meet and discuss the details of their joint suicide. What neither of them expect is to become friends. Aysel finds that in talking about her depression and her feelings of worthlessness, the load that is weighing her down feels a bit lighter. She hopes that Roman feels the same way, but it seems like his load is still too heavy to bear.

As April 7th draws closer, Aysel becomes more convinced that suicide may not be the answer. Maybe her heart isn’t a black hole. Maybe she can put the past behind her and find a way to convert all of her potential energy into something real. But can she help Roman to do the same? Is it possible for Aysel and Roman to look toward the future when the past still has such a vicious hold on them? Can someone so broken be saved?


Like I said at the beginning of this post, author Jasmine Warga definitely gets what it feels like to be depressed, and that comes through My Heart and Other Black Holes. As someone who’s dealt with depression since my teen years, I appreciate that, and I wish I’d had books like this when I was younger.

As a wannabe science nerd, I also enjoyed all of the physics talk in this book. I especially liked that this talk was coming from a Turkish girl. Even Aysel’s thoughts on the physics of death were interesting to read and think about. And ultimately, this interest in something leads to her having some semblance of hope for the future.

All that being said, I do have a couple of issues with this book. One issue is the lack of closure between Aysel and her father. There are hints at the end of the book that a big meeting between the two is coming, but I wanted to see it. I wanted Aysel to confront her father, ask him why he did what he did, and get some clarification regarding his own mental health. I think that would have gone a long way in providing Aysel with the answers she desperately needed, but neither she nor the reader gets those answers.

My biggest issue, though, is with Aysel’s miraculous recovery. That sounds awful, but hear me out. The minute she figures out that she has feelings for Roman, she wants to live again. I don’t like the idea that this guy, even (or especially) with his tragic circumstances, could magically “cure” Aysel’s depression, stop her suicidal thoughts, and turn everything around. That’s not how depression works. Love, if that’s really what Aysel and Roman feel for each other, is not a cure all, and it’s dangerous to give readers the idea that simply finding that “one right person” will put an end to their feelings of hopelessness. Sometimes love is not enough to save someone.

Although I think this book has some problems, I do think it is an entertaining read. Yes, it’s dark and deals with serious issues, but the major part of the book gives a realistic look at depression and the scary thoughts that accompany this illness. And, though I have an icky feeling about how the author approaches it, the book does tell readers that there’s always hope.

If you’d like to learn more about My Heart and Other Black Holes and Jasmine Warga, check out the author’s website. You can also connect with the author via Twitter and Facebook.

Let’s Get Lost

A couple of days ago, Let’s Get Lost, a novel by Adi Alsaid, was released to the world. I began reading a NetGalley review copy of the book last week, and I finally finished it last night. To be perfectly honest, this book didn’t immediately capture my attention, so I found it easy to put it down and move on to something else. Once I made up my mind to sit down and read Let’s Get Lost, however, I wanted to know more about the central character, Leila, and her interactions with others on her journey north. The relationships she formed told us just as much about Leila as they did about the people she encountered.

Hudson is a kid preparing for the most important meeting of his entire life. He’s got a shot at a full scholarship at Ole Miss, and tomorrow is the big day. But a lot can happen in a day. When Hudson is working in his dad’s garage, a girl brings her car in for a little work. Almost immediately, Hudson is captivated by this newcomer. Her name is Leila, and she’s unlike any girl he’s ever met. She’s traveling to see the Northern Lights, and Hudson is awed by her bravery, her ability to take life as it comes, and to do what she wants. He wishes he could do the same. While she’s in town, he does. He decides to live a little before his big interview. Hudson shows Leila the town he loves, he shares pieces of himself with her, and he begins to reevaluate what he really wants. Is he ready, though, for the fallout of his night with Leila and what it could mean for his future?

Bree meets Leila on a lonely stretch of highway in Kansas. Bree is a runaway who lives for the next adventure, the next surge of adrenaline. She thinks she’s met a kindred spirit in Leila, the girl who took pity on a poor hitchhiker. Bree introduces Leila to the thrill of shoplifting, auto theft, and, eventually, spending some time in a jail cell. Through all this, Bree reveals her story to Leila, who wants to do whatever she can to help this girl find whatever it is she’s looking for. Is she really looking to run away, or is she trying to find her way home again?

Elliot, a young man in Minnesota, just told his friend, Maribel, that he’s in love with her…and was essentially shot down. This is not how his prom night was supposed to go. It was supposed to end like all the great romantic movies, with the girl revealing that she’s always loved him too, and then they have a dramatic kiss and live happily ever after. Yeah…not so much. Instead, Elliot is getting hammered and doing stupid stunts in the middle of the street. And that’s were Leila runs into him–literally. After a mild run-in with Leila’s car, Elliot unloads his troubles on this strange girl. Leila, in turn, vows to help Elliot win the girl he loves. What follows is a night reminiscent of a John Hughes film. Every time Elliot thinks he’s finally done something to win his Maribel’s affections, he’s rebuffed. It’s just when he’s all but given up that he has a glimmer of hope…and it’s all thanks to Leila, a girl he’d never met before this night but one who gave him the push he needed to follow his heart.

Sonia is a young woman struggling with her feelings. She’s in a wedding in British Columbia this weekend, but she’s very conscious that someone is missing from this important occasion. Sam, the boy she loved so much, passed away months ago, and his absence is weighing on Sonia. It’s Sam’s sister getting married, and his family that has taken Sonia in as one of their own, but how would they react if they knew she was moving on? Sonia doesn’t want to risk losing Sam’s family, but she knows that Jeremiah–who happens to be the best man in this weekend’s wedding–deserves more than she’s currently giving. The pressure gets to be too much for Sonia, and she needs some time alone. That’s when she meets Leila, a girl who takes pity on Sonia (who is now a tear-streaked mess), and what follows is a quest to reclaim Sonia’s life, save a wedding, and finally acknowledge that it’s okay to love again.

Leila has met quite a few interesting people on her journey to see the Northern Lights. She’s helped people–simply by caring about them–and she may have even experienced the beginnings of love, but it’s now time to see the Lights that she’s been so focused on. As she waits for the Lights to appear, she finally reveals her true reason for this long journey…and it’s not something that most people can fully grasp. Will the Northern Lights–in all their majestic glory–finally make things right for Leila, or will she discover that what she’s looking for has been within her reach all along?

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Let’s Get Lost is a good read for those interested in travel, meeting new people, and throwing caution to the wind. I am definitely not one of those people, but I still enjoyed the book a bit. It was just a little difficult to understand the appeal of so much spontaneity.

I would say that this book is more suited to high school/YA collections than those for middle grade readers. It does include some alcohol/drug use, law-breaking, a little profanity, and a fair amount of disobeying (or outright ignoring) parents and other authority figures. (I think I was bothered more by the lack of respect for parents than by any of the other “bad” stuff in this book. Of course, I’ve always been a rule-follower. On the other hand, many of the adults in this book were almost completely out of touch with what was going on in their kids’ lives. Many young people will be able to relate to that.)

I know summer is winding down for most people, but Let’s Get Lost would be a great read if you’ve got a road trip ahead of you. It may just inspire you to slow down and get to know the people you meet along the way.

For more information on Let’s Get Lost and author Adi Alsaid, check out the author’s blog, Twitter, or Goodreads.

Game

Spoiler warning! If you haven’t read Barry Lyga’s I Hunt Killers yet, you simply must before reading the sequel, Game. (My fellow South Carolinians need to read I Hunt Killers anyway. It’s nominated for the 14-15 SC Young Adult Book Award.)

As you’ve no doubt gathered, I recently finished reading Game, the second book in Barry Lyga’s Jasper Dent series. In this series, we get to know Jasper, known to his friends as Jazz, the son of the world’s most prolific serial killer. In I Hunt Killers, Jazz helps the authorities find the Impressionist, a killer copying the work of Jazz’s father. At the end of that book, though, readers got the kind of cliffhanger that makes us weep or scream in frustration. Somehow, Jazz’s father escapes from prison, and he’s on the hunt again. That’s where Game picks up.

Jazz knows his dad is on the loose, and it’s just a matter of time before their paths cross. In the meantime, there’s yet another serial killer prowling in New York City, and Jazz’s help is once again enlisted to determine just how this maniac thinks. And if anyone knows how a killer thinks, it’s the son of Billy Dent.

Jazz and his girlfriend Connie head to NYC in the hopes that they will be able to find some clues that lead to the capture of the Hat-Dog Killer. The police and FBI seem to have no leads, and Jazz is able to provide a bit of insight into the mind of this psychopath. It’s not always a comfortable process for Jazz (or the reader). In trying to figure out what the killer thinks, Jazz is forced to come face-to-face with his own damaged psyche.

Can Jazz really handle the pressure of thinking like a killer once again? Is he losing himself to the teachings of his father? How can Jazz possibly spend most of his time profiling serial killers without succumbing to the voice of Billy Dent in his head?

As Jazz comes closer to the truth about the Hat-Dog Killer and his dad’s possible involvement in this disturbing game of murder, Connie and Jazz’s best friend Howie are entangled in their own mystery. Someone is sending Connie messages leading her to some disturbing information about Jazz and his past. Who is sending these messages? And why send them to Connie and not Jazz? Connie enlists Howie’s help in her search for the truth, but neither of them will be prepared for what awaits them…

Once again, the hunt for a killer is on. Jazz and company will have to rely on their wits, tenacity, and good old-fashioned luck to figure out what’s going on…but it may not be enough. Even when questions are answered, dozens more pop up in their place, and the hunt for the truth may lead Jazz, Connie, and even Howie into further danger.

Someone is playing a murderous game with people’s lives, and Jazz and his friends may just become unwitting game pieces themselves. Can they make it out of the game alive? Only time will tell…

_______________

I freely admit that the above recap doesn’t come remotely close to capturing everything that happened in Game. I didn’t even touch on the glimpses we got into the minds of Hat-Dog, Jazz, Connie, Howie, and Billy. Each perspective brought us new insights into these characters and how they view the world around them.

I briefly mentioned Jazz’s struggles with his own mind, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Jazz is all kinds of messed up, and that definitely comes through for the reader. I even had to put the book down a couple of times and just catch my breath. Jazz’s head is not a happy place to be. What do you expect when a kid is basically raised to be a murderer, right? Sometimes it’s not clear if we’re actually reading Jazz’s thoughts or those of his lunatic father. I guess that’s the dilemma for Jazz as well.

Without giving too much away, I must say that the “game” aspect of Game freaked me the crap out. I may never look at board games the same again.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the whopper of a cliffhanger at the end of this book. When I closed Game last night, I just sat there for a minute and thought, “You’ve got to be kidding me!” Has Barry Lyga been taking lessons from Steven Moffat (of Sherlock and Doctor Who fame) on torturing fans with mind-boggling endings? Do we seriously have to wait until September to find out how things are resolved (or if they are resolved) for Jazz and friends? I guess we do, but we don’t have to be happy about it!

The third book in this series, Blood of My Blood, should be released on September 9th. (Loving the title, by the way. Can’t wait to see what it might mean for Jazz!) Judging be the synopsis on Goodreads, we’re in for a lot more danger and intrigue. I look forward to diving into what I’m sure will be another fantastic read.

If you can’t wait for more of Jasper Dent and company, though, you can check out a couple of companion novellas. Lucky Day tells of how Billy was first captured, Career Day is a day in the life of sixteen-year-old Jasper, and Neutral Mask provides a look into the beginnings of the relationship between Jazz and Connie. Just click on the titles of each novella in the previous sentence, and you’ll be taken to the Goodreads page on each ebook.

For more information on I Hunt Killers, Game, or other books by Barry Lyga, check out his website, Tumblr, Twitter, and Facebook. If you’ve got a minute or two to spare, you may also want to take a look at the Game book trailer below. It covers things I didn’t here, and, in my opinion, it definitely captures the mood of this intense read!

 

Better Off Friends

It’s becoming pretty clear that I’m going to like any book that Elizabeth Eulberg writes.  I’ve now read four of her books–Prom & Prejudice, Take a Bow, Revenge of the Girl with the Great Personality, and Better Off Friends–and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every single one. Last night, I finished reading Eulberg’s latest, Better Off Friends. This book takes aim at that age-old question: Can a guy and a girl really just be friends?

The two main characters in Better Off Friends, Macallan and Levi, have been friends since they first met in the seventh grade. In fact, they’re best friends. They have a special bond that seems to be unbreakable…even when Levi starts dating one of Macallan’s other friends. (As you can probably imagine, this doesn’t really end well, and Macallan is forced to choose between friends. Quite the pickle.)

As Macallan and Levi exit middle school and enter the exciting world of high school–dances, team sports, serious relationships–their strong friendship is tested. No one really gets the closeness between Macallan and Levi, and that leads to problems with boyfriends and girlfriends.

As this dynamic duo examines just why their other relationships fail, they’ll be forced to face how they really feel about each other. This is not exactly a comfortable process. In fact, at one point, Macallan escapes to Ireland for the summer just to avoid facing her feelings for Levi! Levi, meanwhile, is trying to balance being a guy’s guy with having a girl for a best friend…a girl who he may love as more than a friend.

Life is quickly becoming an emotional whirlwind for both Macallan and Levi. When mushy feelings are thrown into the mix, their friendship undergoes some changes. Sometimes, the two can’t even speak to each other without arguing. At other times, the two are inseparable.  Their newly-discovered feelings for each other–feelings that each one denies at one point or another–are quickly making a mess of everyday life, and something’s got to give soon.

Would becoming a couple change everything that is special about their friendship, or would it make them stronger than ever? Should Macallan and Levi explore their feelings, or are they better off friends? There’s only one way to find out…

_______________

Part of me wanted this story to steer clear of anything romantic. I think guys and girls can be just friends, and I think it would have been refreshing to see that play out. However…

SPOILERS!

That’s not what happened here. Love–and not the platonic kind–got thrown into the mix, and I’ll admit it made for a great read. I imagine every reader will wonder when Macallan and Levi are going to wake up and see that “The One” is right there in front of them. This struggle made for some tense moments, but I held out hope that these two would find some way to eventually be together.

I did have reason to believe things would turn out okay for Macallan and Levi. In between chapters, readers see conversations between these two–mostly reactions to what happened in the previous chapter or hints about what’s about to happen–so we know that, at the very least, they remain friends. That was definitely a comfort when their friendship hit a few low points.

If you’re looking for a fun, often hilarious, romantic, light read, I urge you to give Better Off Friends (and other books by Elizabeth Eulberg) a try. Even though the book doesn’t really answer the question of whether guys and girls can be just friends, it does show that sometimes the best relationships start with amazing friendships.