Lenny’s Book of Everything, by Karen Foxlee, is one of those books you press into your friends’ hands and quietly insist, “Read this.” It’s incredible, uplifting, warmly funny and devastating in equal parts. I loved every character (except the lecherous Mr King).
Lenny’s little brother, Davey, is growing too quickly. By the age of six he’s as tall as an adult and his rate of growth is accelerating. His mother’s ‘dark heart feeling’ at his birth is being realised.
On the other hand, Davey and Lenny’s Burrell’s Built-It-At-Home Encyclopedia is arriving far too slowly for their liking. One instalment per week, starting with ‘A’. Lenny wants ‘B’ for beetles to arrives. Davey is waiting for ‘E’ for eagle, like his imaginary eagle Timothy, who sits on his shoulder and comes to school.
Mrs Gasper, the Hungarian babysitter next door, has vivid dreams which she delights in recounting in detail to Lenny. Lenny makes up stories of running away to entertain Davey with. She dreams of finding Peter Lenard Spink, her elusive father who walked out the door when she was five years old and never came back.
Davey just enjoys life. But he won’t stop growing. Lenny and Davey’s mother wants everything to be just as it is. It worries her when it’s not. Lenny describes her mother thus:
She was made almost entirely out of worries and magic.
When it becomes clear that Davey’s height isn’t just due to his mysteriously cited Swedish ancestry, the magic starts to fade and is replaced by pure worry.
Set in the 1970s, Lenny and her family inhabit an era when there were only a few television channels, telephones had cords and the most exciting entertainment was opening the encyclopedia at random and hoping you struck gold at something weird or wonderful.
At times it feels like this book is about very little, really. But I found that I didn’t really care. It’s such a wonderful joy to read. It will make you want to trade your material wealth for the golden ties of close family and community.
I will warn you though, you will need tissues. Both for the happy moments and the crushing ones. Sometimes it can be difficult to tell the difference. All I knew was there were tears.