Absolute Brightnessby James Lecesne
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Release Date: May 31st 2016
Genre: Young Adult, Realistic Fiction, GLBT, Teen, Mystery, Contemporary, Coming of Age
From Academy Award-winning writer, actor, and activist in the LGBTQ community comes a groundbreaking story about love, prejudice, and being yourself.
Phoebe’s life in Neptune, New Jersey, is somewhat unremarkable. She helps her mom out with her hair salon, she goes to school, and she envies her perfect older sister. But everything changes when Leonard arrives.
Leonard is an orphan, a cousin who Phoebe never knew she had. When he comes to live with Phoebe’s family, he upsets the delicate balance of their lives. He’s gay and confident about who he is. He inspires the people around him. He sees people not as they are, but as they hope to be.
One day, Leonard goes missing. Phoebe, her family, and her community fight to understand what happened, and to make sense of why someone might want to extinguish the beautiful absolute brightness that was Leonard Pelkey.
This novel by the cofounder of The Trevor Project inspired the critically-acclaimed Off-Broadway show The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey.
For over 25 years I've been telling stories. Whether I'm writing, acting, producing or trying to create social change, it's usually the story that got me involved. But in the process of getting things done and trying to make the world a better place, I've also been telling the story of my life. This website is my best effort to provide the general gist. But my hope is that you find something here that will inspire you to live your life more fully and continue to tell your story.
1. What gave you the inspiration to write this book?
As the co-founder of The Trevor Project, I often have a front row seat on the trials and tribulations of LGBT youth. At the time, I was seeing way too many stories about LGBT young people who were either being victimized or hurting themselves because of who they were. I didn’t want to sugarcoat the problem, but I did want to tell a story that could inspire others to be themselves, a story about the real dangers and the real beauty that comes when we dare to be our true selves. I turned to some books that were important to me as a young adult, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, A MEMEBR OF THE WEDDING, GREAT EXPECTATIONS and CATCHER IN THE RYE and tried to honor them by writing the best book I could possibly write.
2. Who is your favorite character in the book?
Leonard Pelkey. Despite his misfortunes, Leonard always manages to show the world a bright face and he puts a positive spin on everything. But at the same time, he is motivated to make it better for the people in his life no matter what. I don’t think anyone realizes the effect he has on the town - or on Phoebe, the narrtaor – until he disappears.
3. Which came first, the title or the novel?
When the novel was completed about halfway, I stumbled on the title. ABSOLUTE BRIGHTNESS is actually a scientific term that describes the apparent brightness a star would have if it were placed at a standard distance from Earth. Most of the time a star’s brightness is determined by how close it is to the earth (i.e. the sun), but if all the stars were the same distance away, we would be able to determine their absolute brightness.
4. What scene in the book are you most proud of, and why?
I love the scene in the courtroom at the end. Not to give anything away, but the courtroom allowed me to bring everyone back together under one roof, and it gave just about every main character a part to play. I remembered being so surprised when I wrote that scene, surprised by the things people did and said. I felt as though I was observing the scene and recording it, rather than making it up in my mind.
5. Thinking way back to the beginning, what’s the most important thing you've learned as a writer from then to now?
Never give up. It takes a lot to make anything in this world. And a novel requires even more – it takes hours, days, weeks, months, sometimes years. You have to stick with it and believe in the story, even when it doesn’t seem to be adding up to much. Most of the time you are all by yourself in the midst of this enormous undertaking. So you have to value your own company, you have to keep yourself engaged in the process while trusting that what you have to say is worthwhile to a reader you have never met. It requires a certain amount of audacity – also love for the people you are writing about.
6. What do you like most about the cover of the book?
The sneakers! In the novel, Leonard creates his own fashion trend by creating a pair of rainbow colored platform sneakers. My good friend Bradley told me about how he had done this as a young adult and how proud he was wearing them around town despite the fact that they made him a target and everyone gave him a hard time for wearing them. I just love this image as a symbol of Leonard’s feistiness, creativity and joie de vivre!
7. What new release book are you looking most forward to in 2016?
It’s not titled yet, but I know that David Levithan has a new book coming out, the third in his EVERYDAY series that will conclude the story of A, a character who changes bodies on a daily basis bit is always in love with the same girl.
The Queer History Project: No Way, They Were Gay? Lee Wind is the writer and LGBTQ activist behind the I'm Here. I'm Queer. What the Hell Do I Read? blog. His nonfiction middle grade book will feature profiles and primary sources that explore LGBTQ loves and lives.
8. What was your favorite book in 2015?
THE GREAT AMERICAN WHATEVER by Tim Federle (2016, but still)
ONE MAN GUY by Michael Barakiva
BROWN GIRL DREAMING by Jacquiline Woodson
IF I WAS YOUR GIRL by Meredith Russo
ANOTHER DAY (Every Day #2)– David Levithan
THE PORCUPINE OF TRUTH by Bill Konigsberg
9. What’s up next for you?
Touring the U.S with my solo show, THE ABSOLUTE BRIGHTNESS OF LEONARD PELKEY, adapted from the novel Absoolute Brightness. And I’m writing a new YA novel, which is due to be published in 2017 and published by Feiwell & Friends. It’s about a gender-neutral 16-year-old who travels to Florida with their mother to take care of their ailing grandmother. And accidently becomes a mermaid.
10. Is there anything that you would like to add?
Be who you are. There is no substitute for being your true self. And only you know who that is – and the fun is finding out. You may never know the impact your authenticity has on other people. One of the reasons I wrote the novel, ABSOLUTE BRIGHTNESS was to remind readers that each of us has a particular brightness that cannot be hidden or disguised; that brightness changes the world we live in – if only we will let it shine.