A perfect storytelling of an imperfect family
Lenny’s Book of Everything — Karen Foxlee (Allen & Unwin, $22.99) reviewed by Louise Ward, Wardini Books
Lenny lives with her mother, Cynthia Spink, a tiny woman who sometimes gets dark heart feelings. Overjoyed at the birth of her son Davey, Cynthia nonetheless had a dark heart feeling on the day of his birth, and though this novel is full of love, that dark heart feeling looms large and creates the most exquisite tension. Davey is growing at a rate of knots, and by the time he is six, he is as tall as a grown man.
Davey’s gigantism is a source of secret shame to Lenny — shame because people stare and they can never just be normal, and a greater shame that she is ashamed of the gigantic little brother she adores. Davey is sweet, kind and funny and the dumpling of their neighbour, the delightfully eccentric Mrs Gaspar. The children’s father, Peter Lenard Spink, left one day and never returned and Lenny is left wondering what family is, and what it might be.
Cynthia wins a subscription to the Burrell’s Build-It-At-Home Encyclopedia. Bug-obsessed Lenny and falcon-obsessed Davey — he has an imaginary falcon called Timmy on his shoulder most of the time — weave fantasies of running away to Great Bear Lake in Canada around the entries on wildlife. They’re planning their escape from creepy Mr King who looks at their mother in a worrying way, Lenny’s fretting over their lost father and the strain of Davey’s worsening condition.
The novel describes family life and love perfectly, in that it is imperfect. Families are not always blood relatives, what happens is not always fair, life can be devastatingly short but beautiful. This is one of those affirming, heart-breaking books that needs to be read by smart 10 year olds and big-hearted 70 year olds who should talk about it and cry over it as though they know Lenny and Davey, which they do.