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My Friend Leonard Hardcover – June 16, 2005

4.0 out of 5 stars 497 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

In the bold and heartbreaking My Friend Leonard, James Frey picks up the story of his extraordinary life pretty much where things left off in his breakout bestseller and Amazon.com Best Book of 2003, A Million Little Pieces, the fierce, in-your-face memoir about Frey's kamikaze run of self-destruction and his days in rehab. Fresh from a stint in jail from pre-rehab-related charges ("On my first day in jail, a three hundred pound man named Porterhouse hit me in the back of the head with a metal tray."), clean-living Frey returns to Chicago and gets sucker-punched with a cruel blow that will leave readers ducking for cover in anticipation of the blinding bender that's sure to come. But then the titular Leonard, the larger-than-life Vegas mobster ("West Coast Director of a large Italian finance firm") whom James befriended in rehab, steps into the story and serves equal parts unlikely life coach, guardian angel, and father figure for the grief-stricken author, adopting him as his "son" and schooling him in the fine art of "living boldly":

Be not bold, be f-cking BOLD. Every time you meet someone, make a f-cking impression. Make them think you're the hottest shit in the world. Make them think they're gonna lose their job if they don't give you one. Look 'em in the eye, and never look away. Be confident and calm, be f-cking bold.

Hurricane Leonard storms into James's life, showering his young charge with multi-course feasts at steakhouses and Italian restaurants, courtside seats at Bulls' games, Cuban cigars, and an elaborate Super Bowl party in Los Angeles, all the while doling out wisdom on life and love and motivating James to stick to his burgeoning writing career. James even has a brief stint as an employee of Leonard's, though occupational hazards--like having a nine millimeter shoved in his face--prove too much for the novice bag man (though he does make enough to invest his earnings in a Picasso drawing). When Leonard drops out of sight for an extended period, his absence leaves readers aching to hear the familiar refrain of "My Son!" just one more time.

Frey sticks to the taut, staccato style that shot through A Million Little Pieces with such raw electricity. Surprisingly, the tone feels equally at home with this book's focus on friendship and extreme loyalty, and works to intensify the always-looming, adrenaline-rush threat of violence and the lure of the Fury that courses like a riptide throughout the book. Ultimately, it's a sense of hope, and humor even, that prevails and makes My Friend Leonard a stand-alone success. Despite his shady pedigree, you'll long to have a friend like Leonard just a phone call away. --Brad Thomas Parsons


James Frey's List of Books You Should Read


Paris Spleen

Tropic of Cancer

The Great Santini

See more recommendations from James Frey


Amazon.com's Significant Seven
James Frey graciously agreed to answer the questions we like to ask every author: the Amazon.com Significant Seven.


Q: What book has had the most significant impact on your life?
A: Tao te Ching by Lao Tsu. Completely changed how I think, behave, live my life. Nothing else comes close.
Q: You are stranded on a desert island with only one book, one CD, and one DVD--what are they?
A: The book would be the Tao te Ching, the CD would be some compilation of love songs from the 70’s and 80’s, and the DVD would be highlights from the history of the Cleveland Browns.

Q: What is the worst lie you've ever told?
A: No way I can answer that.

Q: Describe the perfect writing environment.
A: I've been working at the same desk since I started writing. It's old and beaten-up and black. The rest of my workroom is empty, except for some crazy sh-- on the wall in front of me: pictures of people I admire, reproductions of artwork I dig, sayings that motivate me, things like--bare your soul, be bold, page a day motherfu--er page a day. I listen to music while I work, have a pile of nicotine gum and a couple cans of diet coke. My dogs are usually a couple feet away from me. I've always worked this way, probably always will.

Q: If you could write your own epitaph, what would it say?
A: "Loved, lost, laughed, left."

Q: Who is the one person living or dead that you would like to have dinner with?
A: Winston Churchill

Q: If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
A: Immortality.



From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Frey achieves another stylistic coup as he develops a narrative thread begun in 2003's A Million Little Pieces. He chronicles his journey out of the terrifying darkness of addiction, and the friend he meets along the way, Leonard. A gangster, raconteur and mentor, Leonard was introduced in Pieces as one of Frey's new rehab friends. Here, he pushes Frey out into the world, pampering him one moment, giving him tough love the next. As in Pieces, Frey's style throughout is loose, untraditional yet perfectly crafted: "[Leonard] offered me his hand and said good, I'm fucked up too, and I like fucked-up people, let's sit and eat and see if we can be friends. I took his hand and I shook it and we sat down and we ate together and we became friends." There's something mesmerizing about the endless tumble of words, the nonstop spilling out of Frey's troubles and triumphs. In the hands of a less capable writer, all of this cool, tight narration might numb the reader and distance the experience. Instead, this book packs a full-body emotional wallop. Frey's eye is keen for detail: the inside of a county lockup; the flat, gray Chicago winter; an out-of-control Super Bowl party in Los Angeles; the grind of living day to day—all come alive in his sparse, powerful prose. At its core, this is an examination of a friendship. Frey's extraordinary relationship with Leonard is alive, a flesh-and-blood bond forged in the agony of rehab and sustained through honesty and trust. Agent, Kassie Evashevski at Brillstein/Grey Entertainment. (June)
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Books; First Edition edition (June 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1573223158
  • ISBN-13: 978-1573223157
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.7 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (497 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #781,409 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Brett Benner VINE VOICE on May 23, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I know the book and it's predecessor are all a big heap of lies, but if you approach it as strictly fiction, there's no denying the guy's a really great writer.Frey's frenetic style is the same as in "...Pieces", and although it's not the brutal foray into addiction recovery, it still manages to be both compelling and fast paced, as he pieces his life together after rehab and continues forging his relationship with gangster Leonard. Moralizing about integrity and honesty aside, I'll be interested to see what Frey produces next regardless of whether it's in the fiction, bio, or big fat liar section
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Format: Hardcover
A sad thing happens somewhere in the middle of this book: you learn that James Frey is a screenwriter and a producer and a director and you begin to question almost every sentence. Did it happen? Or does it simply make for a good story? Like others, I found the ending to be completely contrived--perhaps real, but related in a way that stinks of Hollywood. I put the book down and wished I had stopped at A Million Little Pieces, which was devastatingly brilliant whether contrived or not.
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Like many others, I found out about James Frey through Oprah and her book club. I read A Million Little Pieces quickly and intensely. I didn't question it at the time. I just wanted to finish it and see what happened to all the interesting characters. I immediately bought the follow-up and had it delivered with the 2 day option. I couldn't wait for the book to arrive. Then, I started thinking more about AMLP and wondering how true some of the parts might be, like the part where they have the boxing match and the authorities leave and they are allowed to bet and eat as much as they want from a catered company. I started to realize there might be some over-elaboration from Frey. Maybe he made some of it up, maybe a lot more than some of it.

Then MFL arrives and I read it quickly. It lends itself to being read quickly because it is so repetitive. I agree with other reviews that say his style works much better as an addict than as a person who is distanced from that addiction. This style becomes difficult and tedious. I tire of it I take a break from reading I care less about what happens to the characters get a cold tasty cola. Skip a few pages. The writing becomes a parody of itself at times. It worked before but it doesn't in this book. In the "real world" Leonard becomes a much less believable character to me. Snapper is one dimensional at best. I lose interest in his loves he can't get it up with his beautiful new girlfriend he won't tell her why he still misses Lilly cries buys flowers cries. We hug. We seperate. We order steak, creamed spinach and a nice cold tasty cola.

OK, you get it. I'm disappointed I hoped for better I feel like it was made up makes the first book less believable stop now stop stop.
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If you read Frey's first book then you must read this! After a Million Little Pieces, I had tons of questions I wanted answered. Why did Lilly do it? What was prison like? Is the fury still there? This book answers all of those questions and tells the unique and fascniating story of Frey's life after rehab. The ending is wonderful and brings closure to his story and all of the questions.

Highly, highly, highly recommended.
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Frey got those anecdotes the no-risk way: he stole them from a real druggie/criminal author. A much better and more honest one, a guy named Eddie Little-specifically, Frey looted Little's great debut novel, Another Day in Paradise.

Little wrote a column called "Outlaw L.A." that ran when Frey was living in LA writing bad movies (eg Loving A Fool). I think Ruth's hunch was right: Frey, like the thief and conman he is, read Little's column, then his book, and started stealing. Naturally, he cut the key element of Little's books: the unhappy endings. The fake transformations suckers demand.

Another lie, those transformations; people live and die as unvaryingly as insects. Frey himself illustrates this perfectly. He was a yuppie schemer from birth, a trust-fund bum with a roof rat's adaptive, though repellent traits: a rat cunning and lack of shame.

Since Frey knows nothing about drugs and cares nothing for truth, he opts for the most lurid, criminal version of druggie life. He knows you pious hypocrites love that stuff. So he stole Little's stories, carefully leaving out all the good parts. See, that's the key: y'all like Frey not despite his weakness as a writer but because of it.

Compare his stories with Little's and you'll see this. Little generates horror and triumph without resorting to tearjerking; Frey zooms to the weepy scenes, too ignorant to fake the details he doesn't know and too cynical to care about filling in his crude narrative.

Compare outcomes: Little paid for his knowledge of junkie-dom and died a junkie's death; Frey stole Little's scars, tears and knowledge, skipped the weird stuff and sold you a cut-and-paste tale of tears ending with redemption, a hymn with a lot of curse words to cut the treacly taste.
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My Friend Leonard is an amazing book. I read the entire book within two days, and about three sittings. James Frey has a great writing style. The pacing of the book is frenetic, fast, and chaotic.

All that being said, I can't give this book a high rating. I have no idea how much of this book is even real. It has been proven that the beginning, where Frey spends 3 months in jail, is a total fabrication. A fabrication that basically the entire book is based off of. I can't even truly believe that Leonard is a real person. Some part of me believes, but the other part of me is saying, "If he lied about this, why not about that?" Frey is currently making millions of dollars off of this book and its predecessor. That makes me sick. The fact is, if this was not supposed to be a "true" story, its chances of being published would diminish almost entirely. If you want to look at the even bigger picture, if A Million Little Pieces was exposed as the untruth it was before publishing, the publisher would have dropped it. I gave A Million Little Pieces 4 stars due to the fact that I thought it was a good book. I can't do that this time. I can't endorse something that is entirely fabricated. I loved reading My Friend Leonard, I just don't love that James Frey takes us all for fools who will believe anything we read.
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