Book Review: Love May Fail

Matthew Quick rapidly became a favorite author after I realized Silver Linings Playbook (the film) had been based on a book of the same name.  I’ve since read all his books, including Forgive Me Leonard Peacock, The Good Luck of Right Now, Sorta Like a Rockstarand Boy 21.  I was pleased to see he had a new book out last year, and when I attended NCTE this year, I procured a copy of Love May Fail. While avoiding finishing my grading this weekend, I devoured it in just two sittings.

Essentially, this story explores how to resurrect yourself from an existential crisis.  You might need some help from family, friends, and old teachers, but it is possible.  Told from a variety of perspectives (Portia, recently single after discovering her philandering husband; Nathan Vernon, Portia’s former English teacher; letters from a nun), this novel quickly captures your attention and your heart.  Teachers will appreciate the truth about teaching–it is simultaneously wondrous and dangerous, something that can fill us up and empty us out.

Perhaps my favorite element of the book is the card Mr. Vernon gave to all his students (which Portia saved for decades). On it:“Portia Kane, Official Member of the Human Race! This card entitles you to ugliness and beauty, heartache and joy—the great highs and lows of existence—and everything in between. It also guarantees you the right to strive, to reach, to dream, and to become the person you know (deep down) you are meant to be. So make daring choices, work hard, enjoy the ride, and remember—you become exactly whomever you choose to be.”

However, there’s a compelling storyline about a dog named Albert Camus as well.  This book is full of joy, sadness, redemption, resurrection, love, and most of all hope. The next time you need to lose yourself in a book, pick this one up.

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Posted by Kate, VP Secondary PCTELA

Book Review: Love May Fail

Friday Five: YA authors you should have on your classroom bookshelf

Here’s a list of 5 authors you should definitely have on your classroom bookshelf if you teach teenagers.  You would also probably enjoy the stories as an adult, too.  These authors deal with important issues for teens, and while the content is mature, these authors create characters who work through struggles with grace, poise, and humor.

  1. Andrew Smith–author of Winger, Grasshopper Jungle, and 100 Sideways Miles as well as the Marbury Lens & Passenger.
  2. A.S. King–author of Everybody Sees the Ants and Please Ignore Vera Dietz.
  3. Matthew Quick–author of Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock; Boy 21, and Sorta like a Rockstar.
  4. Bill Konigsberg–author of Openly Straight and Out of the Pocket.
  5. David Levithan–author of Two Boys Kissing, Every Day, and Boy Meets Boy.

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Friday Five: YA authors you should have on your classroom bookshelf

Sorta Like a Rockstar by Matthew Quick

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I’ve recently become enamored with Matthew Quick’s quirky characters. My first experience with his work was The Good Luck of Right Now, and I had seen Silver Linings Playbook (the book is far better, but that’s a review for another time). Then, a colleague insisted I read Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock and that book blew me away (no pun intended). Recently I reviewed Boy 21 on this blog, and now that leads me to this one, the one published book of his I hadn’t yet read. (He has a new one coming out this year, Love May Fail.)

In Sorta Like a Rockstar, Amber is the kind of character you can’t help but root for. She’s living out of a bus she’s named Hello Yellow with her mother and Bobby Big Boy, her rescued dog. But she really lives far beyond the walls of just that bus. She has a group of school friends (The Franks Freak Force Federation), a group of Korean singing divas, a regular Wednesday event battling Joan of Old at the Methodist Retirement home, and a haiku-writing veteran whose dog Ms. Jenny is dating Bobby Big Boy. She calls her principal Prince Tony and generally puts people in the book and readers in a good mood. However, Quick is not one to just have a fluffy, feel-good story. Trauma strikes and makes Amber question everything. She spirals into an existential crisis and wonders about the point of it all.

The community reaches out to help Amber through her rocky time, but ultimately, the only one who can help her is herself. I appreciate Quick’s ability to pull us into the character’s mind and his ability to understand human nature. The ending of the book gives realistic closure–not some unbelievable, perfectly-tied-up ending, but closure that seems realistic considering what occurred for the characters.

One of the elements of this book I particularly appreciated were the haikus throughout–Amber writes one about Ms. Jenny and Bobby Big Boy:
“Together playing
Gray and white-brown dogs of ours
We watch quietly.”

Posted by Kate, VP Secondary, PCTELA

Sorta Like a Rockstar by Matthew Quick

Up Late with Boy 21 by Matthew Quick

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Matthew Quick is a new favorite of mine. After recently reading Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock (reviewed here by Amy) and The Good Luck of Right Now, it made sense I would seek out more writing by Quick. Boy 21 is a quick read (haha, no pun intended…OK, it is possible I meant to do that) but a powerful one. Finley lives for basketball and his girlfriend (who may, in fact, be better at basketball than he is). They plan to use basketball to get themselves out of Bellmont–they know staying in this town will surely result in them turning into metaphorical zombies like Erin’s parents, or worse (Finley’s mother is dead and his grandfather’s legs are missing and his father works at a toll booth–the future does not look bright).

Before their senior year, though, Finley’s coach makes a special request–look out for Russ, or Boy 21, as he calls himself. Finley becomes Boy 21’s personal point guard, and then his friend. Russ has lived through a tragedy and the only way he seems to be able to function is to imagine he’s an alien here on earth, and will rejoin his parents soon. Finley and Russ become close, and even begin a Harry Potter book club with teammate Wes, the only other guy on the team in AP English. Things seem to be going well, until tragedy strikes again.

I don’t want to reveal any spoilers, but this book allows you to quickly identify with Finley, Erin, and Russ–all of whom are outsiders in one way or another. There are some great moments in the text, and the end is hopeful.

As usual, here are some favorite quotes:

  • “You can lose yourself in repetition–quiet your thoughts; I learned the value of this at a very young age.”
  • Finley’s Dad gives him advice: “it’s a long race and you can always outwork talent in the end.”
  • “I’ve found that being blunt sometimes makes life easier for everyone.”
  • Erin, on why Finley is likable: “you don’t put demands on people and you never say anything negative–ever. So many people suck the life out of everyone they’re around, but you don’t do that. You give people strength just by being you.”
  • Pop, Finley’s grandfather tells him “It’s hard to be special” and “you don’t always get to pick the role you’re going to play in life, but its good to play whatever role you got the best way you can.”
  • “I think about how fragile people are, how anyone can disappear in a second and be gone forever.”
  • “We’re stories too.”

Posted by Kate, VP Secondary, PCTELA

Up Late with Boy 21 by Matthew Quick

Up Late with Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick
Book Review by Amy Walter

There are four gifts Leonard Peacock must deliver to four very different people on his 18th birthday.

A check, a hat, a medal, and a necklace all symbolize Leonard’s place in the world as he says his final goodbye. This birthday is going to be the most memorable in all of Leonard’s 18 years because on this day he is going to murder his former best friend, Asher Beal, before he pulls the trigger on himself.

The novel uses an epistolary format along with journal type entries which replay the events which led Leonard to plan his ultimate demise where he will go down in history similar to those who have come before him: Ted Kaczynski, Timothy McVay, and then the Columbine shooters Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. This novel gives a different perspective of what it is like to unwind both mentally and emotionally.

I don’t think I can compare this novel to anything that has been written for teens in the past several years as Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock is truly in a class of its own. Matthew Quick emulates a similar pacing style as he did with Boy 21, complete with conversational, and controversial at times, dialogue which is in no way forced.

At 273 pages this novel was a suspenseful and fast read because soon after chapter one Leonard was in my head. I embraced this character so quickly because as a teacher I knew he was the much needed voice of this generation of misfits and vagrants refusing to embrace the formulated status quo of selfies and hashtags. Leonard needed saving in a way we all at times need saving when life takes an unexpected turn. At his breaking point Leonard finds himself struggling with two very different decisions he must make. In the end he does not solve his problems and he is far from fixed. But he does come to understand humanity.

A satisfying read, the ending is not only unexpected but formulated so beautifully that any reader can come close to finding one’s own meaning of what it is like to feel unimportant, forgotten, victimized, and then on the path to becoming whole again.

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock is one that will stay with you for a while. Embrace the complexity of this character and you will learn what it is truly like to not just sympathize, but to empathize with those who are lost and forgotten in a complicated and twisted society.

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This week’s book review comes from PCTELA member Amy Walter, an 8th grade reading specialist at Grove City Middle School, in Grove City, PA.

Up Late with Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick

Up Late with The Good Luck of Right Now by Matthew Quick

So my reading last week was a little heavy and this week I thought I needed to lighten up a little.  But my at-home to-read bookshelves did not have much in the way of light reading, so I took a jaunt down to my public library.  There, on the new fiction shelf, stood my serendipitous find: The Good Luck of Right Now by Matthew Quick. You’ve probably never heard of Matthew Quick.  I hadn’t, at least.  But the book cover proudly proclaimed he was also the author of The Silver Linings Playbook.  Now, I haven’t actually read that book, but I did see the movie (I know, I sound like my students).  But anyone who can write a scene about a man loving a book so much that he throws it out a window and wakes up the neighborhood is an author whose books I am certain to love.unnamed

I read this book all in one Sunday afternoon sitting–it was hard not put down–and when I was done, I wanted to go rent An Officer and a Gentleman, with Richard Gere.  That might sound strange at first, until I tell you that this is an epistolary novel, where the protagonist, Bartholomew Neil, writes letters to Richard Gere.  He writes them to Richard because after his mother died, he found a letter from Richard Gere in one of her drawers and decides to confide in him about his life. Bartholomew’s life is not terribly unusual.  He visits the library often, where he uses the internet, notes interesting things in his notebook, talks to his good friend Father McNamee, and fantasizes about taking the Girlbrarian on a date (or just talking to her, even).

I enjoyed this book for many reasons.  While it is written with a light touch, and reads quickly, it explores the idea of grief, of developing as a full human being, of religion, or friendship, and of happiness.  Bartholomew does some research into Buddhism, since Richard Gere is a Buddhist, and there are sayings from the Dalai Lama peppered throughout the book.  Bartholomew has also read Jung, and writes about the idea of synchronicity throughout. But these quotes and ideas are mixed in with his mother’s theory, about The Good Luck of Right Now, which is downright transcendental.  Her idea is this: “whenever something bad happens to us, something good happens–often to someone else.” This idea of the balance of the universe allows her to remain cheerful during tragedy and, as Bartholomew states early on in the book: “Mom could make small things seem miraculous. That was her talent.” She celebrated little things: “like finding a forgotten wrinkled dollar in a lint-ridden coat pocket, or when there was no line at the post office and the stamp sellers were up for smiles and polite conversation, or when it was cool enough to sit out back during a hot summer–when the temperature dips dramatically at night even though the weatherman has predicted unbearable humidity and heat, and therefore the evening becomes an unexpected gift.” Now that’s a life philosophy I can appreciate.

So if you’re looking for a quick read with a light touch, where the end is hopeful and fulfilling, check out The Good Luck of Right Now.  Hopefully they’ll make this into a movie, too.  I’m motivated to pick up the book of Silver Linings Playbook since I enjoyed Quick’s prose so much in this one.  Happy reading, and don’t stay up too late!


Posted by Kate

Up Late with The Good Luck of Right Now by Matthew Quick