cover image Lenny’s Space

Lenny’s Space

Kate Banks, . . FSG/Foster, $16 (152pp) ISBN 978-0-374-34575-4

This exceptional portrait starts out like a variation on Louis Sachar’s inimitable There’s a Boy in the Girls’ Bathroom : the protagonist, nine-year-old Lenny, has exasperated teacher after teacher, his principal and his single mother, until he winds up in the office of the school’s empathetic counselor, Muriel. Lenny’s problem? He’s brilliant but he cannot contain himself, and, as Banks (Dillon Dillon ) demonstrates in slow, cautious doses, he has cut himself off from many of his feelings. He tells Muriel, for example, that although his father isn’t an astronaut, he “went up in a space shuttle and is still orbiting around somewhere” (he abandoned the family). Encouraged by Muriel, Lenny, who never cries, strikes up a friendship with a boy he meets on the playground; experienced readers will know what is coming when Van turns out to have leukemia. The emotional wallop will hit hard anyway, thanks to the steady character development and the precise turns in the plot. Banks chooses symbols that her audience will both understand and like: Lenny’s mother, for example, works as a hand model and therefore always keeps her hands encased in gloves. The author’s pristine observations will fortify readers in their efforts to find their own spaces, much as Lenny learns to claim his. Ages 10-up. (Oct.)