Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick

From Goodreads:

Today is Leonard Peacock’s birthday. It is also the day he hides a gun in his backpack. Because today is the day he will kill his former best friend, and then himself, with his grandfather’s P-38 pistol.

But first he must say good-bye to the four people who matter most to him: his Humphrey Bogart-obsessed next-door neighbor, Walt; his classmate Baback, a violin virtuoso; Lauren, the Christian homeschooler he has a crush on; and Herr Silverman, who teaches the high school’s class on the Holocaust. Speaking to each in turn, Leonard slowly reveals his secrets as the hours tick by and the moment of truth approaches.

forgive me

I picked up this advanced reading copy (to be released August 2013) at OLA this past January.  At first, I noticed the interesting cover, and then I recognized the author, Matthew Quick (author of Silver Linings Playbook).

I found the book to be an honest, yet difficult read. The storyline boils down to a day and half of Leonard planning a murder/suicide. Immediately, I found Leonard to be a very unlikable pessimistic character until we finally learn why he has such hatred toward his classmate, Asher.  Leonard demonstrates all the warning signs of suicide (change in appearance, giving away possessions) and only his teacher Herr Silvermann and elderly neighbour Walt seem to notice.  His family situation saddened me.

His teacher recommended that Leonard write letters from the future to help him imagine his future and serve as a reminder that his life can get better. Although I think the idea behind it makes sense, I didn’t enjoy the inclusion of his sci-fi letters. I found them so out there and I’m not even sure how that could even help him as it won’t even come close to resembling his true future. Also, the letters were never explained until after the first one, so I was very confused when I first came across it.   I also didn’t enjoy the over use and length of the footnotes. I have never seen such lengthy footnotes; some take up the majority of the page.

Overall, I think a lot of reluctant readers (especially teen boys) would enjoy this book.  It is a contemporary read that includes: curse words, a WW11 Nazi handgun, threat of violence, a mysterious Holocaust teacher, and the questioning of religion and adult happiness.  I found the ending very fitting and true to the story and characters, even if it wasn’t the happiest.

Review: Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

What if you only had one day to live? What would you do? Who would you kiss? And how far would you go to save your own life?

Samantha Kingston has it all: looks, popularity, the perfect boyfriend. Friday, February 12, should be just another day in her charmed life. Instead, it turns out to be her last.

The catch: Samantha still wakes up the next morning. Living the last day of her life seven times during one miraculous week, she will untangle the mystery surrounding her death–and discover the true value of everything she is in danger of losing.

Before I fall by Lauren Oliver was one of those books that have forever been on my ‘to-read’ list.  Described by many as a cross between ‘mean girls’ and ‘groundhog day’, I wasn’t super motivated to be transported back to my high school days where popularity was key, and rumours ran rampant. However, I must admit that I was missing out on this wonderful, thought provoking book! It is based on heavier subjects like death, suicide, and bullying, yet also touches on peer pressure, eating disorders and dysfunctional families too.

This is a rather lengthy book (470) pages, with only 7 chapters (1 for each day Sam re-lives). Sam has seven opportunities to understand what went so wrong, and how she can make it right. She fails miserable the first couple of times, but slowly begins to self reflect and understand how her actions can affect other people. Readers follow her path to redemption and along the way experience a wide range of emotions (frustration, anger, hope, etc.). 

I wasn’t sure how Oliver would be able to keep multiple days lived over and over again from being repetitive. Yet, she does this effortlessly.  There are different choices and events to give Sam the opportunity to make a difference.  Sam is by no means a perfect character, so her character growth from the beginning to end is believable.

There were so many lines and quotes that I loved, but my favourite was:

“So many things become beautiful when you really look (p. 344)”.  This book truly reminds us that our actions do affect others and to not take life for granted.  A recommended read for all.

 

 

Review: Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson

From Goodreads:

Lia and Cassie were best friends, wintergirls frozen in matchstick bodies. But now Cassie is dead. Lia’s mother is busy saving other people’s lives. Her father is away on business. Her step-mother is clueless. And the voice inside Lia’s head keeps telling her to remain in control, stay strong, lose more, weigh less. If she keeps on going this way—thin, thinner, thinnest—maybe she’ll disappear altogether.

Although this book was a tough emotional read, it was also one of the most realistic portrayals of anorexia I’ve ever read.  While mostly a book about eating disorders, it also includes content on suicide, and family breakups.  Anderson writes about this serious content in a haunting lyrical fashion that captivates the reader from the first page.  She is able to explain situations using very few words, and uses a lot of different formatting, including tiny numbers/text, repeated lines, and text strikeouts.

I found it interesting that several times Lia referred to her past as “…when I was a real girl”.  I suppose, as her weight plummeted to scary skinny, she wasn’t truly a real girl, but rather a ghost of her former self. I couldn’t imagine the hell of calorie counting every morsel of food that entered my mouth.  For many anorexics like Lia, this is an everyday struggle and the effects are often shown both physically and behaviourally.  As a coping mechanism, Lia also turned to self -loathing, lying, and self-mutilation.  I often wonder why on earth individuals would do that to themselves, and this book really helped to understand the mind of a crazy, calorie-counting obsessed teenaged anorexic.  Before eating anything, Lia considered the calorie content—for example, “Toast (70) calories. Razor-thin spread of jam (30)= 100 calories.”  However, as demonstrated in the book, anorexia cannot be simple cured or fixed –despite best efforts of health professionals, family, and friends.  Like Anderson writes:

“There is no magic cure, no making it all go away forever. There are only small steps upward; an easier day, an unexpected laugh, a mirror that doesn’t matter anymore.”

Overall, I’m glad Anderson wrote a book aimed at YA readers since teens and young adult women are most commonly diagnosed with eating disorders.   It is a sensitive, yet serious issue that needs to be addressed more frequently.  I have a feeling that this story will stay with me for a long time.

Book Review: 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher

“You can’t stop the future
You can’t rewind the past
The only way to learn the secret
…is to press play.”

From Goodreads:

Clay Jensen returns home from school to find a mysterious box with his name on it lying on his porch. Inside he discovers thirteen cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker, his classmate and crush who committed suicide two weeks earlier.

On tape, Hannah explains that there are thirteen reasons why she decided to end her life. Clay is one of them. If he listens, he’ll find out how he made the list.

Through Hannah and Clay’s dual narratives, debut author Jay Asher weaves an intricate and heartrending story of confusion and desperation that will deeply affect teen readers

Wow! This book has definitely caused a stir in the blogging realm! Some say that everyone goes through difficult things in their lives, and Hannah’s  13 reasons were not strong enough to justify suicide (not that suicide is ever justified…) Others say, who are we to judge? Everyone experiences life differently, and no one really knows what is going on in another person’s head. Honestly, I would have to agree with both sides. I reaaaally wanted to sympathize with Hannah, but I found it difficult. To me, she was whiny and constantly looking for excuses and people to blame. She could have prevented some of the 13 reasons herself.  I also didn’t like that Hannah referred to her planned suicide in a joking matter. Obviously someone planning suicide also has some sort of mental illness, but still.

On a positive note, I think this book does a great job at raising awareness about this important and sensitive topic. Just last week, I was reading the newspaper about another Canadian teen committing suicide as an escape from bullying.  Like Hannah, she experienced the ‘snowball effect’ of smaller problems adding up until she reached her breaking point. While I personally don’t think that Asher glorified suicide, I could understand how some readers thought so. In no way should suicide be used as an act of revenge against people who have hurt you.

 I think this book allowed readers to understand what goes on in a suicidal person’s head, that an individual’s actions can seriously affect others and how to recognize the signs in others around you (like how Clay notices Skye at the end of the book).  Therefore, I believe the powerful tale of 13 Reasons Why could be used to spark discussion in a non-preachy way about teen bullying and suicide.  Also, teens may be interested to know that it will soon have a movie tie in! Production companies have acquired rights to the book, starring Selena Gomez. I’m not sure how she will do in a more serious and dark role, but I’m willing to give her a chance.  

Overall, this book was a very quick read as you will want to journey along with Clay to find out more about Hannah’s story. I enjoyed the unique interchanging of listening to Hannah’s side, followed by Clay’s reaction and thoughts. You quickly get used of the interplay of different voices, and would make for a neat audiobook.

 
EXTRA—Want to further explore Hannah’s Map? There is an interactive version available at–
http://www.thirteenreasonswhy.com/

 

Book Review: Envy by Gregg Olsen

Two weeks ago, I attended the Whitehot’s Children’s Book Display at the Mississauga Library.  I was able to speak to publishing reps about upcoming new releases and get the scoop on the best reads.  I asked the rep from Sterling Children’s Books for his top pick of YA titles and he immediately picked up Envy by Gregg Olsen. The book cover itself is a high selling point, but at the same time scared me because it reminded me of the scariest movie ever- The Ring. Yes, I am still terrified of that film, and really haven’t watched a horror movie since.  Luckily, Envy isn’t so much a horror story as it is a suspenseful mystery.

Summary from Goodreads:

Envy, the series debut, involves the mysterious death of the twins’ old friend, Katelyn. Was it murder? Suicide? An accident? Hayley and Taylor are determined to find out–and as they investigate, they stumble upon a dark truth that is far more disturbing than they ever could have imagined.
 
Based on the shocking true crime about cyber-bullying,
Envy will take you to the edge–and push you right over.

I must admit, the story kept my interest. But I’m not sure it’s because of Olsen’s story or the fact that I knew the book was based on the true case of Megan Meier. If you aren’t aware of the case, Megan was 13 years old when she committed suicide after being cyberbullied by an unlikely individual. The case was highly publicized and shed light on the dangers of social media. 

Now for my critiques…

😦

–         This book had some of the worst cliffhanger lines ever. For example—When Katelyn is found dead in a bathtub with an expresso machine, Olsen writes: [someone in Port Gamble was] “loving the sad moment to the very drop”.  I also found that Olsen loved writing short empathetic sentences. For example, he ends a chapter with “…beginning of something that would change everything. Everything. Every. Single. Thing (p.16)”. The majority of chapter endings were so terrible that I was surprised there wasn’t a dramatic ‘duh duh duh’ written after them.

–         I think Olsen tried too hard to reference popular culture. From Twilight, to Smashbox makeup. Yes, it may be in ‘in’ thing now, but in a couple of years, these references will date the book.

–         Umm…did I miss something? Why exactly was the espresso coffee machine even near the bathtub in the first place?

–         SPOILER— I didn’t buy the ending. Once they found out Katelyn’s death was an accident, it was like ‘ohhhhh okay, no problem, it was an accident, end of story’.  The storyline of Katelyn was pretty much dropped there.  Then, the next chapter thrusts us back into Hay-Tay’s supernatural issues and the annoying reporter Moira. Yes, she was a little crazy stealing their dog and all, but did she really need to be murdered so that the twins could be ‘protected’? I really doubt being ploughed down by a car would look the same as falling down a rocky bank. To be ruled ‘accidental’ Port Gamble must have the worst policemen and coroners in the world.

🙂

 -I liked the supernatural ‘special’ powers between the twins and wish that it was a bigger part of the storyline. However, the ending of Envy does suggest that their powers will be more played out in the series. 

-I enjoyed reading a mystery and searching for the clues within the story to try to understand what really happened to Katelyn.

-I appreciated the fact that Olsen addressed the issue of online anonymity and the dangers of cyber bullying. Today kids are so tech savvy and cyber bullying is sadly becoming a more prevalent form of bullying.

 

Want more Envy?

Click to watch the Youtube book trailer

Or visit www.emptycoffinseries.com for more information on the book and cyberbulling. You can even take a ‘how mean are you?’ quiz!

 

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