Leonardo's Hand

Wick Downing, Author, Warwick Downing, Author Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH) $15 (208p) ISBN 978-0-618-07893-6
In Downing's far-fetched debut novel for children, 13-year-old orphan and narrator Leonard Smith (called Nard), born without a left hand, turns out to be the ""reincarnation"" of Leonardo da Vinci. The novel begins realistically enough, as orphaned Nard finds a loving foster family in cantankerous pig farmer Anna, her mentally disturbed nephew, Farley, and Farley's daughter, Julie. Financial woes threaten their home as Anna battles vandals and Julie, a dancer, struggles against a back injury. Enter Leonardo da Vinci's dismembered hand (""I looked in that direction and saw a Hand. It didn't surprise me.... I relaxed, watching the hand try to squeeze under the door""). The hand communicates via backwards writing and drafts intricate drawings of a flying machine for a contest that yields prize money enough to alleviate Anna's worries (and its massages also heal Julie's back). Several scenes defy logic, such as a fight in which the hand writes lengthy replies as a raging Nard lunges after it with a mallet. Much of the novel is told instead of shown (e.g., critical information about Julie and her father are conveyed through a phone conversation between Nard and his social worker). Most problematic is the comparison of Nard to the esteemed Renaissance man, for while Nard seems resourceful and several adult characters repeatedly remark upon Nard's brilliance, the protagonist's own observations do not exhibit extraordinary intelligence. Ages 10-14. (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 03/26/2001
Release date: 03/01/2001
Genre: Children's
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