Saturday 25 August 2018

Lenny's Book of Everything by Karen Foxlee

I fell in love with Karen Foxlee's writing in 2014 when I read and loved Ophelia and the Marvellous Boy.

A Most Magical Girl confirmed her ability to move me with her words. So much so, that I acquired her YA backlist to day...!

So I was thrilled to discover recently that she had a new book, Lenny's Book of Everything, due out later in the year. When an ARC turned up last week with my reps tear-soaked tissue rave about how good it was ringing in my ears, I popped it on top of the TBR pile for the weekend.

All the PR on the inside covers suggested that this would be Foxlee's 'break-out book', the one that would finally tip her over into the big time (where I've always thought she belonged, by the by).

The opening sentence told me they were correct.

Our mother had a dark heart feeling.

Straight away I had that lovely goosebumpy shiver of anticipation feeling that happens oh-so rarely these days. I knew this book was going to break my heart yet I couldn't stop myself. Even when that breaking my heart feeling almost got too strong, I couldn't look away for long. Because Foxlee breaks your heart so tenderly, so hopefully, so sweetly that you can't not go along for the ride.

Every life has times of sadness and darkness, stories like this remind us that despite the darkness, within the sadness, there can be kindness, loving and beauty. This is what makes our lives worthwhile, this is what gets us through the bad times.

Foxlee also reminds us that words have power. They have meaning and purpose. Some people choose to put that power and purpose to a negative use, but Foxlee shows us the positive, glorious, wondrous nature of words and knowledge. Words that illuminate, uplift and provide hope are her speciality. Her words enrich our lives and fill our souls with joy.

I know, I'm gushing! But I'm not the only one smitten.

The book is full of gushing quotes:
Anna McFarlane (publisher, Allen & Unwin) - it raises spirits while it breaks hearts.
Eva Mills (publishing director) - broke my heart (in a good way!)...a deep understanding of humanity.
Juanita Keig (account manager) - importance of kindness and human solidarity.
Radhiah Chowdhury (editor) - soothes even as it relates the most unutterable pain.

Karen Foxlee's note tells us that this story about 'an encyclopedia set and a boy who kept growing' has been in her head for quite some time, and that when she 'finally sat down to write it, Lenny was there waiting for me. I felt immediately comfortable in her voice.' It shows.

The complexities and nuances within this story have been woven in seamlessly and apparently, effortlessly by Foxlee. Her characters are fully realised with whole back stories just sitting out of sight, influencing all their actions and reactions. The push and pull between her characters as they rubbed up against each other on a daily basis, felt so real and so natural. They loved, they annoyed, they cared and they hurt each other.

Foxlee said she was trying to explore 'love in all its forms' and how wonderful it is to be alive and that 'even in the darkest hours, there's always hope'. She succeeded.

Although Foxlee is Australian through and through, she has set this story in the 1970's in New York City. I've never lived in NYC, but I now feel like I have, at least, in this one little pocket of NYC so vividly described by Foxlee.

The rest of the story details I leave for you to discover yourself.

Not many books make me cry out loud - I can count the contenders on one hand - but Lenny's Book of Everything made me blubber. Yes, my heart was broken, but it wasn't unbearable. My heart was full of love, wonder and hope too and my heart was mended, again.

The comparisons to Wonder, The Boy in the Striped Pyjama's and The Book Thief are spot on. They are all very different stories, told in very different ways, but they all share an authenticity and tell an emotional truth that is universal and enduring.

The final hardback cover will look like this:

If you'd like to read about the creative process that made this stunning cover, read about it @Things Made From Letters.

Lenny's Book of Everything is a Nov 2018 publication Allen & Unwin.
Book 20 of #20booksofsummer (winter) WAHOO!!
Temperature in Northern Ireland 19℃
Temperature in Sydney 18℃


  1. This sounds unusual and interesting.

  2. What a great review! I love books that are so detailed that I feel like I am there. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Winner 2019 Queensland Awards #QLDLitAwards
    Griffith University Young Adult Book Award – $15,000
    Congrats Karen Foxlee


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