I was up at 3am crying this morning. I woke up and couldn’t get back to sleep and I thought I’d read a quick chapter of Lenny’s Book of Everything, ended up finishing the book and bawling my eyes out. Some books do that to you. This is one of them.
Audience-wise it’s a cross-over book, equally for teens and adults, about a young girl’s world. The voice is so honest and appealing, I can’t imagine anyone starting to reading this and not want to sit down with Lenny and hear her story. She is totally engaging.
The book is set in the ’60s and Lenny is a thoughtful young girl living with her mum and younger brother, Davey. Her dad came and went, and went, and Lenny waits for him to come back while her mum works two jobs and gets on just fine with making-do and a whole lot of no-nonsense love. Lenny shares a room with Davey who is six and doesn’t stop growing. They discuss in obsessive detail the contents of Burrell’s Build-it-at-Home Encyclopedia. As the encyclopedia builds, Davie goes on growing. From the very start, Lenny’s mum knows something is wrong.
Our mother had a dark heart feeling. It was as big as the sky kept inside a thimble. That’s how dark heart feelings are. They have great volume but can hide in small places. You can swallow them with a blink and carry them inside you so no one will know.
Unfortunately, her dark heart feelings for Davey are well founded. He is the nicest kid, but doesn’t stop growing. Karen Foxlee acknowledges that, while based on pituitary gigantism, Davey’s condition is invented for the story. It could be any condition where a child grows into a very obvious disability. Lenny worries about her brother and is both embarrassed and defensive. She has a dark heart feeling, too.
The story is funny and harrowing and moves along at a fast clip, never dwelling on the miserable stuff. It’s packed with characters: Lenny’s mother, who “gets herself under control which is straight up and down and skinny with a frown”; the teacher Mrs Schweitzwer “her name sounded like the swish of a rag across a dirty table”; the doctor with “gold rimmed spectacles who looked to me like someone who should sit at a table mending dusty clocks or building ships out of toothpicks.” There’s the batty neighbour who babysits and shares her dreams, the best friend who is overlooked by the world until she blasts school assembly on her drum set. The stuttering boy who has a mole removed and becomes the class hunk. The pretend great aunt. Even the manager at the encyclopedia becomes a fully-rounded penpal. I loved all of these complex characters, each conveyed in very few words but filled with their own backstories.
There are enough good sub-plots to distract you from the real story before bringing you home to the inevitable. Which is why I ended up bawling my eyes out at 3am.