Absolute Brightness

( 11 )


Darkness: Where light is not.

Light: Brightness or illumination from a particular source.

Absolute brightness: The mystery of Leonard Pelkey.

This is the story of a luminous force of nature: a boy who encounters evil and whose magic isn't truly felt until he disappears.

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Darkness: Where light is not.

Light: Brightness or illumination from a particular source.

Absolute brightness: The mystery of Leonard Pelkey.

This is the story of a luminous force of nature: a boy who encounters evil and whose magic isn't truly felt until he disappears.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Lecesne, the Academy Award-winning writer of the film short Trevor, turns out a stunner of a first novel, using a deliberately leisurely pace to develop a careful view of a smalltown New Jersey community-and then shattering it. Phoebe, the ruminative 15-year-old narrator, is appalled when the orphaned son of her uncle's ex-girlfriend moves in with her fatherless family: it's not just that 13-year-old Leonard shows up in pink-and-green plaid capris, a midriff-baring T-shirt, platform sandals and pierced ears-"I like different. I am different," Phoebe explains to readers-but "something about him seemed to invite ridicule. Like he was saying, go on, I dare you, say something." Soon Leonard wins over Phoebe's mother, who operates a hair salon, and her clients, as he prescribes exactly what they need to release their inner beauty. But before these characters harden into types, the mood blackens, not unexpectedly but nevertheless horrifyingly. Lecesne is an artist with small details, using them liberally both to heighten his characters' world and to plant material whose significance emerges only much later. A somewhat didactic ending does not dim this book's pleasures nor flatten its complexities; readers are still left to wrangle with ambiguities and unmeasured depths. Ages 12-up. (Feb.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
AGERANGE: Ages 11 to 18.

The mystery of Leonard Pelkey casts brightness and darkness on the community of Neptune, New Jersey, and in the Hertle household. Frankly observant Phoebe has strong ambivalent feelings about her almost-relative Leonard's colorful arrival into her home and school life. Leonard bonds with her mother's salon customers, providing style and beauty tips that are the talk of the town. Yet he is the ultimate freak and outcast in the school milieu, creating difficulties for Phoebe. When Leonard disappears, the plot races to catch up with a pandora's box of suspicion, fear, and guilt. This madcap narrative is quite lengthy, bordering on rambling, but the marvelous details are engaging, adorable, and also gravely tragic. The detective caper unfolds, meeting the vivid characters of bad-boy Travis, lonely Peggy Brinkerhoff of Shark Lake, the law, and the preacher, not to mention Phoebe's mom, who is overcome by life and the loss of Leonard. The teens created by Jean Ferris and Sarah Dessen come to mind as readers applaud Phoebe and big-sister Deidre's growth as they come to terms with Leonard's murder. Divorce, molestation, the loss of a parent, the war in Iraq, homophobia, and courtroom drama figure into this lively adventure, making it an outstanding read for boys and girls alike. Reviewer: Nancy Zachary
April 2008 (Vol. 31, No. 1)

Children's Literature
AGERANGE: Ages 12 up.

The power of an authentic life is the indelible imprint left in Leonard Pelkey's wake. The youngster shows up suddenly on his cousins' doorstep as welcome as moldy bread. He is given space in the basement, haphazardly fashioned into a bedroom, and bare bones tolerance as the newest family member. The most obvious problem is that Leonard is odd by any measure. To the hyper-sensitive antennae of the early adolescent, he broadcasts a blinding weirdness. To make matters worse, Leonard insists on being himself. He appears not to care that he is the object of scorn and derision. But his cousin, Phoebe, soon realizes that Leonard is not really oblivious. He desperately wants to be liked and accepted, but not at the expense of acting other than he is. The riveting thing about Leonard being himself is that he slyly, engagingly, sincerely, and insistently wants everyone else to be their own true and best selves, too. He works this imperative in his aunt's beauty salon, advising, instructing, and transforming everyone who comes across his path. When he vanishes one night, the transformations, and the absolute sanctity of the self, are his legacy. The poignant cry for tolerance that was Leonard's life echoes long after the last page is turned. It is a good thing that longer books are back in vogue. It would be difficult to tell Leonard's story in a more abbreviated form. This is an important novel that deserves a place in middle school and high school libraries, as well as in the study of contemporary adolescent social life and culture. Reviewer: Hazel Buys

Fifteen-year-old Phoebe lives with her beautiful older sister and her divorced mother, who owns a beauty salon next door to their small house. Her father has run off with another woman. Her sister has withdrawn into a shell, and her mother is in an advanced state of denial. Suddenly Phoebe discovers that she has a shirttail cousin and he's coming to live with them because of her uncle's irresponsibility. His name is Leonard Pelkey, he's 14, and he's, well, "swishy," or as he calls it, "being himself." Phoebe is not especially kind to Leonard, but before long he has enchanted all the old lady patrons of her mother's beauty shop with his sense of style and his insistence that everyone needs a makeover. Phoebe, who considers herself worldly wise, often grows impatient with Leonard's vulnerabilities and his refusal to be anyone but his own unique person no matter how much grief he gets from the other kids at school. Then one day, Leonard disappears, and everything changes. In his absence, he seems to be everywhere, and Phoebe wishes she had been a better big sister to him. Although his murdered body is eventually found and the evildoer is discovered, this is not a murder mystery. It's a book that's not afraid to ask the big questions: Why is there evil in the world? How do you combat it? The novel even suggests some answers. This thoughtful novel is beautifully written; its themes are haunting, and in spite of the central tragedy, it's often laugh-out-loud funny. Age Range: Ages 15 to 18. REVIEWER: Myrna Marler (Vol. 42, No. 1)
Judy Beemer
Nothing is what it seems, learns 15-year-old Phoebe the year her almost-14-year-old cousin Leonard Pelkey comes to live with her family. Arriving in pink and green capri pants and homemade platform shoes, Leonard rates "instant reject" status in Phoebe's book. After he disappears, though, Phoebe begins to see him, her family, her best friend, her community, and human nature in a different light. Absolute Brightness is Phoebe's first-person investigation of Leonard's disappearance. Even as Phoebe looks beneath appearances into the dark heart of evil, that voice remains authentically adolescent. A light-hearted study of serious issues, Absolute Brightness will have readers of many ages and interests turning pages, chuckling, wondering, thinking. Reviewer: Judy Beemer
School Library Journal

Gr 8 Up- The small coastal town of Neptune, NJ, is thrown for a loop when flamboyant and flashy Leonard, 14, arrives to live with the Hertle family. His cousin Phoebe, 15, resents his inclusion and watches with annoyance as he proceeds to join the high school drama crowd and give her mother's beauty parlor clients makeovers of body and mind. When Leonard goes missing, Phoebe begins to realize that she had not been able to see beyond his six-inch platform sneakers; his love for others and his desire to be loved in return touched the people of Neptune more deeply than anyone had expected. As she struggles to make sense of his disappearance, she leans on Travis, her wrong-side-of-the-tracks boyfriend who had at an earlier time accosted Leonard. This novel touches on myriad sensitive topics, including incest, shoplifting, wounded veterans, abandonment, sexual identity, and hate crimes, giving the book something of a crowded feel. Still, the frank tone of Phoebe's narration and the tragedy of Leonard's abbreviated life will give readers plenty to ponder.-Nora G. Murphy, Los Angeles Academy Middle School

Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Arriving on the Jersey shore, flamboyant Leonard Pelkey stomps into Phoebe's life on platform sneakers and complicates her disconnected family relationships. Befriended by blue-haired old ladies, Leonard's makeover enthusiasm garners him both friends and enemies. When Leonard's body is recovered after his sudden disappearance, Phoebe and her family must address their conflicted feelings about Leonard's murder and his absence in their lives. Armchair detectives, the Iraq war and sexual molestation all crowd their way onto the pages of this meandering narrative. Leonard's enthusiastic personality, though reminiscent of the fabulous Billy Bloom from James St. James's Freak Show (2007), never forges a similar emotional connection with readers and leaves them feeling exhausted. Electra's expositional 11th-hour speech concerning the nature of good and evil is a drastic departure for the character, and seems more pontificating than heartfelt. As a character and narrator, Phoebe's self-involved nature makes her entirely forgettable, and her improbable relationship with Travis, Leonard's killer, is another cheap manipulation. Lecesne's work on the Trevor helpline serves as a beacon of hope, but this bloated narrative clouds the issue of homophobia and teen sexuality. (Fiction. YA)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061256271
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 2/5/2008
  • Pages: 480
  • Age range: 13 - 12 Years
  • Lexile: 970L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 5.00 (w) x 7.12 (h) x 1.45 (d)

Meet the Author

James Lecesne is an author, actor, and activist, whose film Trevor received an Academy Award for best short film. James cofounded the Trevor Helpline, a 24-hour suicide-prevention hotline for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, and questioning teens. He lives in New York City.

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Read an Excerpt

Absolute Brightness

Chapter One

I was stalled in aisle 7 of our local supermarket, musing over the selection of potato chips and saying something like, "But really, don't you think thirty-seven different types of chips is a ridiculous number to choose from? I mean, how did we end up living in a country that makes a big deal over everything squeaky-clean and then at the same time makes you pay extra for chips called 'dirty'?"

As usual, Mom hadn't heard a word I'd said. Instead, she was standing in the middle of the aisle, smiling at nothing in particular and referring to her shopping list as if it were about to tell her something about her life that she didn't already know. My sister, Deirdre, was hanging the top half of her body over the shopping cart, letting her long, luxurious chestnut-colored hair touch the unpaid-for produce. She couldn't hear me even if she'd been so inclined; she was plugged into her iPod and humming along. If you happened to be passing by, you might have assumed that Deirdre was just some girl about to be sick into the cart, or you might have mistaken her humming for the kind of low moaning that is popular with television actors starring in telenovelas when they've just been fatally shot.

Deirdre has always been considered the great beauty in our family, so I made a point of keeping a certain distance from her. Someone might be forced to compare us, and I would only come up short. Literally. Deirdre is a full four inches taller than I am. Deirdre has always been the tall beautiful one. I was . . . well, I was Phoebe. I've also avoided lingering too long over her physical features, like her delicate bone structure,her glittery green eyes or the aforementioned full-bodied head of gorgeous, chestnut-colored hair. Compare and despair. It's true that I've never tried that hard in the beauty department. What's the point? That's Deirdre's territory. It was as if Deirdre had used up all the genetic coding in our family for beauty, and I got whatever was left over, the dregs. Everyone was always looking at her, admiring her, telling her how beautiful she looked, how perfect her outfit was, and asking where she got her shoes. From top to bottom she was Neptune's "it" girl. I was the also-ran. It's lucky I loved Deirdre as much as I did; otherwise I would have hated her guts.

It's not that I'm bad-looking. But my arms and legs have always been a bit too square, my hips are wide and I have a butt. I like my breasts. Once I got over the embarrassment of actually having breasts, I discovered that they gave me power over the boys at school when I wore a certain kind of top. My face is fine, but maybe it's a bit too flat and round to be considered anything other than just cute. Personally, I think my brown eyes are a little too far apart and they don't sparkle nearly as much as I would like, but I can see the world well enough with them, so I guess I shouldn't complain. I dye my hair; I always have. It's my signature thing, my way to keep from being overlooked or forgotten altogether. As my mother has always reminded us girls, "Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but for god's sakes give 'em something worth beholding."

Mom poked Deirdre in the ribs and told her to stand up straight and take her earbuds out. Mom had an announcement to make. And then without any fanfare whatsoever, in the middle of aisle 7, she told us that our cousin Leonard would be coming to live with us.

"And soon," she added. "I mean, this Saturday."

"I didn't know we had a cousin," was the first thing out of my mouth.

Now normally, I don't like to hang out near the frozen foods. You can freeze your legs off if you linger too long in shorts by the Tater Tots and TV dinners. But we were stuck. Mom had decided that this was the time and place to tell us exactly who Leonard Pelkey was and why he would soon be living under our roof. By the time she had finished, my teeth were chattering and my fingertips had gone numb.

Apparently, Leonard was the son of Janet Somebody from Phoenix who had been getting beaten up pretty regularly by her husband. Finally, she ran off with baby Leonard and tried to piece together a life. Years later, when Leonard was about eleven, Janet met my mother's brother, Mike, in a bar. After noticing that he had a job, she started living with Mike in a low-rise apartment complex with a Spanish-inspired motif until she died of breast cancer the following year, which forced my uncle Mike to become Leonard's legal guardian. But Mike wasn't much of a father figure. He finally broke down, called my mother and cried long distance. He admitted that he couldn't handle the responsibility of raising a kid on his own. Mom asked him why this was the first she'd heard from him in two years. Uncle Mike explained that he had been traveling back and forth to Mexico and working on a scheme to raise some kind of cattle, which would later be sold for a ton of money. He wanted to know if Leonard could live with us—just until his cattle began to pay off.

After Mom finished telling us the story of Leonard, we made our way to the checkout, where Mrs. Toucci rang us up. Mrs. T. took the opportunity to badger Mom; she wanted one of Mom's prime Saturday-morning appointment slots because, she said, she was going to a wedding in Atlantic City. Mom stood firm and explained to Mrs. T. that her beauty salon was not a fly-by-night joint, and her Saturday slots were sacrosanct.

Absolute Brightness. Copyright © by James Lecesne. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 11 )
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Sort by: Showing 1 – 10 of 11 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 25, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    Reviewed by Jaglvr for TeensReadToo.com

    Leonard Pelkey doesn't fit in anywhere. His mother has died, leaving him with Phoebe's uncle, now his legal guardian. But Uncle Mike has plans to go to Mexico to invest in cattle. So Phoebe's mom, Ellen, arranges for Leonard to come and live with them in Neptune, New Jersey. But Neptune isn't ready for Leonard. Saying Leonard is a bit outrageous is being optimistic. Phoebe and her sister, Deirdre, treat Leonard as an unwelcome house guest, going so far as creating a living space for Leonard in the basement surrounded by filled cardboard boxes. <BR/><BR/>But this doesn't stop Leonard from going full-steam-ahead with his life in Neptune. He infuses himself into Ellen's beauty shop business, and slowly, the old ladies that frequent the shop start to subtly change under his tutelage. Phoebe's mom finally starts taking an interest in her appearance again. He even gets Deirdre to drastically change her style. <BR/><BR/>But Phoebe feels left out. Leonard is showing an interest in making over everyone but her. Why does he not bother offering her tips? Then again, Phoebe has done nothing but give him a hard time ever since he moved in. <BR/><BR/>But one night, everything changes. One day he doesn't return from Drama Camp. With the help of Detective Chuck, Phoebe and her family begin a long journey to find out what happened to Leonard. During the days of the investigation, Phoebe begins to acknowledge to herself that she misses Leonard and regrets all that happened between then. <BR/><BR/>As the story reaches its climax with the revelation of Leonard's disappearance, the main characters reveal secret that have been festering within Phoebe's family for years. <BR/><BR/>Mr. Lecesne writes a harrowing story of how a community can react to someone who comes off as different. Leonard infuses joy in all he does, and only too late does Phoebe realize the effort that Leonard put into showing the world such a positive face. The story is heavy, but very moving. I did feel that there were a couple of plot lines that were put in that were left dangling. But none of them were vital to the outcome of the story. <BR/><BR/>Mr. Lecesne leaves the reader guessing as to Leonard's sexual preference throughout the entire book. But the reader doesn't have to know one way or the other, because there is more to the story than the issue of sexual orientation. ABSOLUTE BRIGHTNESS brings to mind the story of WHAT HAPPENED TO LANI GARVER by Carol Plum-Ucci. But Mr. Lecesne brings his story to a definite conclusion, unlike Ms. Plum-Ucci's story, which leaves the reader guessing at the end.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 13, 2010

    Absolute Brightness

    I read this book a few weeks ago, and it was funny, and emotional. I thought it was fantastic, it combined worry, humor, and a little bit of mystery all in one... i liked it a lot, and i would recommend it to anyone.

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  • Posted August 22, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    A wonderful and great book, a must see.

    Okay this book is the best book , in my opinion is it as good as the whole twilight series. This author should make a part 2....Please please please make a part 2 and 3. I love it a lot and I just finished reading it, lol. It was a story that would stick in your mind forever and it is very very very different which is very great because it is unique unlike all the books that copy bestsellers. This is truly the most wonderful book, it gives you things that could happen to many people. I feel that this should even be a movie so if anyone wants to read it you should. THIS IS ONCE AGAIN THE BEST AND WELL WRITTEN BOOK I HAVE READ NEXT TO THE TWILIGHT AND OTHER OF MY FAVORITE BOOKS AND I AM SUPER PICKY. YOU MUST GET THIS BOOK. Also I am not screaming I was just trying to bold out the words. Okay so it is a great book so please consider getting it. The characters are unique, funny and interesting. I love how you feel like you are in the book yourself. Well hope you enjoyed my review , Thank you.

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  • Posted June 30, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    ..... :D

    I read this a while ago but i loved it. I was truely shocked at the ending, even thought I knew it was coming, I was still heartbroken at the end.. I would recommend this to anyone who doesn't mind a good read with a (somewhat) tragic ending.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 21, 2008


    OMG! this is one of the best books i have ever read!! it made me cry,laugh, and everything else! u will absolutly love it ! read it!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 9, 2008

    Awesome book!

    This book rocks! It's very interesting always, and funny at times. I highly recommend it!

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    Posted September 16, 2009

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    Posted October 31, 2008

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