‘He whispered out of our lives at dawn…and never came back again’. So Peter Lenard Spink abandons his family – his wife, Cynthia Spink, daughter, Lenny and the infant Davey; Davey who had been a perfect baby but is born with a rare – and terminal – form of gigantism. We follow the family over eight years through the eyes of Lenny who tells the story. It is a story that is shaped by the absence of her father and the presence of her brother – and the monthly instalments of Burrell’s Build-it-at-home Encyclopedia. She is a clear-eyed narrator and through her we meet a varied cast of characters from the eccentric Mrs Gaspar to her classmate CJ. We quickly realise how much she loves and protects her brother – while often resenting his presence; he stands out and is an embarrassment. She repeats her father’s name as a mantra for a better future but by the end has grown enough to step beyond this fantasy.
At the heart of the story is Lenny – she is the main protagonist and the narrator. However, she is no shadow. Her character comes over clearly as she expresses her opinion on life, neighbours and everything – not least the subjects that leap from the pages of the Encyclopedia, feeding her imagination and providing her with the colour she so desperately longs for. There are other characters who we meet through Lenny – her mother who often has a dark feeling in her heart, Davey who is loved by everyone and whose tragedy eventually allows Lenny freedom to grow up. Though only seen from one perspective, nevertheless the author creates a sense that they are none of them one dimensional. Her language is rich and dense, allusive and concrete – this is an immersive text, reflective, dealing with powerful themes. Lenny may be a child but to me this is a novel written by an adult looking back at the child’s world rather than inhabiting the child; a book for the older reader and the perceptive adult.