Book Review: My Friend Leonard by James Frey (& Some Thoughts on All the Controversy)

When I was reading A Million Little Pieces  sometime last month, I was given the recommendation to read the sequel, My Friend Leonard ,...

When I was reading A Million Little Pieces sometime last month, I was given the recommendation to read the sequel, My Friend Leonard, which I had actually not heard of before then. Generally reading a book, I'm aware if there is a sequel, but I actually had no clue about this one until I was given the recommendation. So, you can see my shining review of Pieces here, but I just had to keep on reading because I loved the style of Frey's writing, and I loved the characters that I grew so attached to. I was super excited to find Leonard at an awesome second-hand media store (think games, movies, music, and books) called 2nd & Charles for only $6. In my excitement, I posted about my awesome literary find on social media only to be met by remarks about the controversy behind James Frey and his two memoirs. It was kind of weird to me I was just getting those remarks on My Friend Leonard, when no one had mentioned anything about it when I had posted that I was reading A Million Little Pieces. My thoughts on the controversy behind the memoirs will follow my review. 

My Friend Leonard picks up just a couple of months after A Million Little Pieces ended. Though it had been several weeks since I'd finished Pieces, as soon as I started reading Leonard, I was right back in the story line, like it was all one long book.

James Frey has an undeniable writing style. As I mentioned in my review of Pieces, his style is very much stream of consciousness. There are no quotations marks, words and phrases are often repeated several times, and while this would generally cause me to put a book down, that was not the case with Frey's writing. Leonard, like its predecessor, will pull you in. The story is raw and exciting. It's impossible to not connect with James and those that he meets along the way. Leonard will make you laugh out loud, give you chills, and make you ugly cry like you've never ugly cried before.

When reading either Pieces or Leonard, which feels like just one big book, you are not only a reader. You are James, you are his best friend, you are his confidante.

Both A Million Little Pieces and My Friend Leonard have easily made it into my top favorite books of all time. I would recommend the James Frey memoirs to anyone.

I am now going to discuss the controversy surrounding James Frey's memoirs. If these claims will distort your thoughts on the book or you'd rather not read about them, please do not read on. 

My Friend Leonard follows through several years after Frey's release from rehab and jail, his connection with Leonard, who he met through the program, and his every day life trying to succeed in being "normal." In the first pages of the book, there is a disclaimer stating that some facts, timelines, and names/descriptions have been changed due to privacy of those included in the memoir, as well as for story-telling aspects. The memoir I specifically read was a first-edition hardback, so I feel that the disclaimer really should cancel out the remarks and controversies surrounding the memoirs, which are now labeled "memoir/fiction."

I am not a writer. I'm confident in my writing, but I've never written a novel or the like, therefore I am not a writer. However, I can understand a little fabrication to make the story a little more interesting. So, let's get one thing straight - James Frey was a 23 year-old addict and alcoholic when he entered his rehab program. He had more or less gotten straight off a plane (that he wasn't even sure why he was on), he had fallen off from an emergency exit and seriously wounded himself. He went into this program and went cold turkey off substances after over a decade of drug and alcohol abuse. I very highly doubt that his intentions were to bad-mouth the program he went into (it obviously helped him). In fact, he never names the program, or celebrities, or places that he goes to, etc. While some people and places can be determined by the reader (and he probably left the names out so he would not be sued), he never clearly states the name. Anything the reader assumes is just that, an assumption. But let's go back to this cold turkey thing. He is going through withdrawals, he is going out of his mind trying to become more human again. I cannot imagine what he went through, but I think it's safe to say that some of his memories, especially through the first few weeks of his program, are more than slightly skewed. I think it's hateful and malicious that people are saying such hurtful things and calling him a liar, when he went through so much more than most people could ever imagine going through. I realize that several people bought his memoirs believing they were 100% true, but how does anyone know that any memoir is true? Writers are story-tellers, and editors and publishers change things all the time in order to sell books. Furthermore, regardless of how true the story is to the readers, it would be impossible to truly say what is true to Frey. Each person lives their own truth, and I can't tell any other person besides myself what their truth it. I can't honestly say why I feel so incredibly passionate about this controversy surrounding these particular memoirs. I've never been an addict, I've never really been affected by addiction, but I would never call someone a liar for speaking their own truth. It's obvious that Frey had a difficult life, and while the things written in the Pieces and Leonard may stray from the truth, I think the basis of the story is more important. Yes, he did lie about the book at first, but he's only human. I stand by James Frey.

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  1. Great review! I enjoyed My Friend Leonard as well, and I think all of Frey's "memoirs" are quite good. I read his books after the controversy but that didn't alter my opinion. I read for entertainment purposes and I think a lot of people take that too seriously. You might also like his novel Bright Shiny Morning, which is a bit different because it's not about him but his writing is still very good. He also came out with Endgame series, which I haven't read but I have the first book so I'm looking forward to reading it.

    1. Thank you! I got so passionate about his memoirs and defending him and just ended up having a lot to say!
      I read about the controversy somewhere in the middle of reading A Million Little Pieces. When reading books, or even watching tv shows, my reality becomes kind of skewed, and as I'm watching, I'm almost stuck halfway in believing they're true or fake. I just get so intrigued. I just don't understand why everyone is so dang angry about the books.
      And I've seen Bright Shiny Morning, and I've considered reading it. I probably will do so. And I've never had much interest in the Endgame series, but I haven't really looked into them or anything, so I may actually enjoy them. Who knows?