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Lenny's Book of Everything

Lenny's Book of Everything

Karen Foxlee
Pushkin Children's Books
ISBN: 9781782692386

This is one of those quirky stories which is very hard to place in a category and to suggest a readership. Set in the US in the 1970s, it tells of a Lenny (Lenore), her mother and her brother Davey who just keeps growing. Their father, after many journeys away, simply does not return one day so they are a single parent family, reliant on Mum working and childcare from Mrs Gaspar, their Hungarian neighbour.

The children become to rely heavily on the encyclopedia which comes in installments and which the family won as a prize. The children devour the information within the sets as they arrive, Davey longing to build a log cabin, and they do hatch a plan to run away to Great Bear Lake and do just that. Davey's growth is diagnosed after an overnight greyhound bus journey to Chicago as a tumour in his brain, Surgery stops him growing for a time but the tumour returns, and eventually, he dies.

Most readers will flag up very early on that Davey is not going to survive, and this looming tragedy does weigh heavily. Lenny is a spunky girl, devoted to Davey, but also almost obsessed with the study of insects. Her observations of their neighbour Mrs Gaspar, who looks after them, are sharp, as is her view of their mother's suitor Mr. King, whom the reader knows will not have a chance as the children do not like him at all. Indeed Lenny throws a brick through the rear window of his pickup truck. Lenny also searches for some relations and is heartbreakingly taken in by a lonely old lady who plays along with her need to find her father.

This is not a book for every child and could easily be ready by adults. The American setting, the details of life in a small town, the observations of the relationship between Lenny and Davey, do make for a reading experience not like many others. It is strange therefore that this is written by an Australian writer who has chosen to write about the US. Karen Foxlee has also chosen to not base Davey's condition exactly on fact, and should a child who is taller than the average pick this story up it would need sensitive handling.

Readers of 12+ could cope with this story of an intensely-observed family life, illness and impending death, although it will raise some questions for which adults would need to be prepared.

352 pages / Ages 12+ / Reviewed by Janet Fisher, librarian


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