In Matthew Quick’s “Forgive me, Leonard Peacock” the protagonist ponders the idea that “we can simultaneously be human and monster — that both of those possibilities are in all of us.” And though Quick’s book and the other two reviewed below are all stylistically very different, they share a common exploration of the monsters within.
Quick, the author of “The Silver Linings Playbook,” has written a raw and demanding story about a would-be murderer. It’s Leonard Peacock’s 18th birthday. After he gives four people who are significant to him each a present, he plans to take his grandfather’s P-38 WWII Nazi handgun and murder his ex-best friend, Asher Beal. Then he will turn the weapon on himself. Leonard’s motivation is revealed bit by bit as his first-person narrative progresses toward a wrenching climax.
The privileged New Jersey teen explains to his favorite teacher, whom he calls Herr Silverman, that, “I feel like I’m broken — like I don’t fit together anymore. Like there’s no more room for me in the world or something.” Being reassured that “[t]hings are going to get better” in the future is little comfort to Leonard, who is not convinced that adulthood is any improvement on the hell that is adolescence. Some days, he even “practice[s] being an adult” by following business people around Philadelphia. He hopes that strangers can “[s]how me it’s possible to be an adult and also be happy.”
This dark novel is hard to read at times. Holden-esque Leonard is both worthy of compassion and infuriating, and there are only two adult characters, Herr Silverman and Leonard’s Humphrey Bogart-loving neighbor, whom you will not want to smack upside the head. Letters from Leonard’s future self and footnotes are more distracting than edifying, making me wish that Quick had left the focus entirely on his arresting core story. Nonetheless, Leonard’s desperate actions and emotions ring true. In a particularly tense moment, Herr Silverman asks him, “You ever feel like you’re sending out a light but no one sees it?” But Leonard is too blinded by his anguish to know that his answer is yes.
Saturated with repressed longing, “All the Truth That’s in Me,” Julie Berry’s new novel, simmers long before it comes to a boil. Eighteen-year-old Judith Finch has been in love with her neighbor Lucas Whiting since she was a little girl. She believes her affection will remain unrequited because when she was 14 a crazed man kidnapped her, letting her go two years later after he cut out her tongue. When she returned to her puritan community, she returned as an outcast, even in her own home. Forbidden to try to speak by her mother, Judith silently drifts through her village, pines for Lucas, and keeps the identity of her abductor secret.
The love story and the mystery about a girl who was murdered around the same time Judith disappeared are mesmerizing. Berry’s language undulates and flows like the cold river Judith needs to ford when Lucas’s life is in danger. Even though her ability to speak might be marred, the protagonist’s interior voice, which is largely composed of thoughts she addresses to her love, is musical. “This will be a new amputation. You’ve been a part of my flesh, underneath all my skin. Your removal will bleed and leave me lame for a time.”
A battle, lustful schoolmaster, hypocrisy-riddled community, and kind-hearted girl who encourages Judith to try to speak add to the rich story. These elements combined with a heroine who understands that “I don’t believe in miracles, but if the need is great, a girl might make her own miracle” make this striking novel, which is out next month, worthy of multiple reads.
What would your hell look like? This is what Carnegie Medal-winner Patrick Ness asks readers to ponder in “More Than This,” which will also be published in September.
Through flashbacks, we learn that 16-year-old Seth Wearing’s family left England for America after something terrible happened to his little brother. Seth had friends and someone he loved that made life with his emotionally distant parents tolerable. But his guilt over what his brother suffered and a great betrayal by a friend proved to be too much. Seth walked into the ocean with no plans of coming back, “[b]ecause you can die before you’re dead, too.”
He wakes up naked on the sidewalk in front of his childhood home in England, the place where he experienced “the worst season of [his] life.” He’s alone in a seemingly abandoned world of empty houses and dust-covered cars. He assumes he is in hell. But is he? and how did he get here?
In his new world, he finds two other young survivors. Together, they try to figure out why they are all together in this place. Like Seth, readers need to be OK with “Not knowing stuff.” Much is left to mystery. Much must be accepted.
This is a dense book, a mess-with-your-head book. A book that must be put down, pondered and then picked back up. It is a gorgeous story with masterful pacing and unforgettable passages that make staying with Seth as he realizes that “[i]f there really is more to life, I want to live all of it” utterly worth it.
All the Truth That’s in Me
By Julie Berry
Viking, 288pp., $17.99
More Than This
By Patrick Ness
Candlewick, 480 pp., $19.99Chelsey Philpot is a book reviews editor at School Library Journal and can be reached at philpotchelsey@ gmail.com.