4 to 16 Characters by Kelly Hourihan

4 to 16 Characters by Kelly Hourihan

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When 4 to 16 Characters popped up on my reading list, I was really excited to see a book written outside the normal prose form. I think something that breaks the status quo is a huge bonus for young adult books, as students are drawn to the unique and unusual. Lately, I’ve seen several narratives written through a long series of poems, but I like that Hourihan went a different direction- writing the whole book through online interactions and posting. The tale is told through Jane’s private digital journal entries, her posting on fan-fiction web pages, her IMs with friends (and eventually her therapist) and her email exchanges at her high school.

 

Jane’s real life is more than a bit of a mess. Her mother died a year before the book begins and her father has since spiraled into depression and alcoholism, leaving her to fend for herself, a job she isn’t emotionally equipped to undertake. She already attends a special high school, Spectrum, for students with social and learning disabilities, but things quickly degenerate as she feels trapped at school and at home. To relieve the pain of both places, she enters a new world- the digital one. After creating a series of online personalities, Jane retreats to internet forums and fan fiction sites, where she can choose her persona each day. Soon, Jane’s days revolve around these online interactions, her real-world ones breaking down even further.

 

What initially intrigued me about the book, the narrative form, is what eventually lead me to like the book less and less and I continued to read. The online chats and fanfic postings were initially entertaining and a fun change of pace, but they quickly became frustrating to read and a bit tedious. At times, reading 4 to 16 Characters was like trying to read a screenplay.  (At times, I literally *was* reading a screenplay!) I didn’t enjoy following character conversations that interrupted each other, jumped from user to user and were filled with occasionally hard to decipher abbreviations. There is where my age might hamper my love of Hourihan’s tale. The things that bothered me throughout the book may very well not dissuade today’s teenager from reading it. Today’s high school students spend a huge amount of time communicating in these very formats, so what I found a bit bulky and cumbersome may just be second nature to a younger reader.

 

I read this book. I’ve thought about this book. And yet, I still feel like I’m on a seesaw when it comes to how I’m going to rate this book.  There are certain aspects of 4 to 16 Characters that I think are really great for young adult readers, which would promptly be followed up a different piece that I find a bit ridiculous.  In the end, I have to rate it with what *I* thought of the book, even though I think high school students would like it more than I did, so to that end, Kelly Hourihan’s 4 to 16 Characters earn just:

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(With that said, I would definitely buy this book for my classroom!)

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick

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Amazing and heartbreaking. Those are the two best words I can come up with to describe Matthew Quick’s newest novel, Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock. I downloaded this book just two days ago, flying through it as I couldn’t bear to walk away from Leonard, the protagonist, as he stumbled his way towards a heart wrenching decision.

The story opens as Leonard gently wraps his World War II Nazi-owned handgun into a pink birthday box, figuring even if he were stopped going into school, no one would suspect anything evil beneath the cheery paper. He’s had years to think about the choice he is making and has decided that this world holds no promise for him, but before he ends his own life, he has a few errands to take care of, namely giving a few gifts to those he felt closest too and then killing Asher, the person who he feels most drove him to the final decision of his life.

As Leonard goes through his final day on Earth, he says his goodbyes in the only way he knows how, worried more about how his Holocaust teacher will feel about his death than his own mother, who is distant and fully wrapped up in her life as a designer, rarely even coming home to see him. (His father fled the country due to tax fraud charges, so in all practical ways, Leonard has no parents. He’s a modern-day orphan.) When a few adults at school notice and call him on his odd behavior, he puts on the happy face, the one he thinks adults expect from teens and weasels his way out of tough conversations.

Each turned page in the book takes the reader one step closer to Leonard’s inevitable end.

Matthew Quick has written an extraordinarily powerful novel about teenage depression and pain, one that will resonate with many high school students. As he wades through topics such as incest, rape and suicide, Quick humanizes these horrors, reminding the reader that we are all so much more than we appear on the outside. We’ve all got back stories that are unknowable to the casual acquaintances in our lives, but by looking closer at those around us and really trying to understand the demons they may be fighting, we can give strength to others, helping them feel powerful enough to fight another day.

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock is definitely not an easy read, but it is an important one. Since it deals with difficult topics, it is not one that I would just put on my middle school bookshelf (although I would keep a copy to give to more mature readers) but I would definitely have copies in a high school English classroom.  Quick’s talk is a powerful one, reminding us that we are more than our suffering, but also that we owe it to those around us to remember that there is more to each of us than meets the eye. Without a doubt, Matthew Quick’s recently released novel Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock earns:

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