The main plotline "You Don't Know What You've Got 'Til It's Gone" works well, but it's a loooooooong book that meanders quite a bit, with digressions aplenty. I had trouble buying into the voice of the protagonist suburban teen girl; I heard the author himself coming through regularly. On a couple of pickier notes: New Jersey doesn't allow self-serve gas stations and the Roman Catholic Priest would have likely been Eritrean not Ethiopian (with a less Swahili-sounding name!). The subplot involving the girl's father seemed unresolved without hearing both sides of the story.
That having been said, I can recommend the book, though not at full price for the hardcover (I read the APC).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.