I had problems with this book, honestly. I know it was tackling a difficult subject. I know that I am not the one to be evaluating and judging the well-being of suicidal teens, and the protagonist of this book is literally a boy planning to commit suicide, and he wants to take some people with him.
Leonard’s confessional is all cynicism, antipathy, and naive self-centeredness, and right out of the gate his corrosive rationalizations for wanting to kill his classmate and himself are brashly laid out, daring the reader to catch a thrill with him as he sets out to complete his final day. There are enough small, heart-wrenching moments that attempt to humanize Leonard even as you’re aware of the horrible thing he intends to do, and so the book tries to cultivate empathy even as it pushes you away.
Maybe I wasn’t sufficiently empathetic, but there was just so much that rubbed me the wrong way, despite my best efforts to appreciate the weight of the story (and there is a lot; Leonard has been victimized in several ways that certainly explain, if not justify, his state of mind.) For instance, I get that, for the purposes of the story, Leonard Peacock was not the type of kid to be comfortable with girls and women. But I’ve said it before — as a female reader, all my life I’ve been handed the stories of men and young men and been told that many of these stories are the classics of literature, and that the points of view represented within have some kind of special merit. I’ve been tasked with empathizing with the male perspective way more than male readers are required to do the same in reverse during their formative years of reading. And now, as an adult woman? I can put my foot down. I can decide I’ve had enough. I’ve done enough empathizing with boys like Leonard Peacock, who is socially awkward and probably mentally ill and who also has a spectacularly creepy, entitled, immature view on women, both those who he would like to fuck (the virginal Lauren) and for whom he can barely contain his contempt (his mother, the whore, and I’m using “whore” in the feminist critique context, not calling her a whore myself.) It’s just… enough. Just because I understand that for this particular book, these unhealthy views on women are part of a larger portrayal of a young man who needs a lot of help and guidance, does not mean I have to be okay with the larger pattern of legions of fictional women being sacrificed on the altar of adolescent male redemption.
That short rant made me tired, just thinking about all of the times I’ve excused terrible male behavior in literature because “It’s realistic!” or “That’s just who he is as a character!” Authors don’t have to choose, over and over again, to demean women through the derisive eyes of their shitty, misogynistic characters. So I’ve had enough talking about this book, to which I have tried to give the benefit out of the doubt as much as possible, but now I’m taking my ball and going home.