Lenny’s Book of Everything spans a period of 3 years. It is the story of Lenny, a young girl who has a younger brother called Davey. Davey won’t stop growing. He has an extremely rare form of gigantism and by the time he turns 8, Davey is taller than the average man. Lenny and Davey are being raised by their single mother who works hard at a retirement home to support them. They live in an apartment in Grayford, Ohio, across from the Greyhound Bus station. We meet the people who live and work on the street: Mr King and his Fruit Store, the Three Brothers Tripani, the tailors, and Miss Finny the seamstress.
We also meet and learn to love the eccentric Mrs Gaspar who lives in the same apartment building and looks after the children when their mother is at work. She is an older lady with an orange beehive on her head who adores the children, especially Davey who has a heart of gold.
Everybody loves Davey, especially Lenny. Lenny and Davey are close, very close, and share everything: except their fear of what is happening to Davey. They know something is terribly wrong but instead choose to dream of their future together. This is a beautiful book about love, loss, and growing up. It is about living with someone who is different and dealing with all that entails.
The story is held together by the weekly arrival of the latest issue of Burrell’s Build-It-at-Home Encyclopaedia. Each week, we, as the reader are just as excited to find out what wonders await the children as they discover antelopes, bears, cabbages and daffodils, but nothing is as exciting as the sections on eagles and the insects. The children dream of one day travelling north to Great Bear Lake with Davey’s imaginary eagle, Timothy.
Lenny’s Book of Everything is a beautiful, heart-warming story for any age group, but recommended for children aged 10-14 on the website. The language is so wonderfully descriptive you can imagine in great detail everything the author describes: “Sometimes rain made me want to cry, like there was something deep inside of me – the sadness flower that opened up when rainy days came, and blossomed inside of me until I couldn’t breathe”.
Each character is so beautifully fleshed out that we become totally invested in the outcome. Their mother and her “dark heart feelings” Lenny when she tells us: “My shame broke up right there, crack, into a thousand tiny pieces and drifted away like storm clouds out to sea. Without my were- wolf pelt, I felt fresh and clean.” I found myself savouring and re-reading such delightfully descriptive passages.
This is a book I found hard to put down. It left me with a lump in my throat and a deep sadness, but also thankful that I was able to get to know Lenny and Davey for even a short while.
My one disappointment was that this story was not set in Australia, particularly as Karen Foxlee is an Australian author living in Queensland. I understand authors want to crack a larger market but I felt myself wishing that this family was an Australian family; that the children were growing up and dreaming of going north to see the crocodiles or the rain forest, or The Great Barrier Reef.
Regardless, this is a novel I highly recommend to anyone who loves a special story about two very brave children who are navigating through their days of joys and sadness, keeping afloat by their love for each other.
Reviewed by Sue Mauger
Rating out of 10: 9
Distributed by: Allen and Unwin
Released: November 2018