Lenny Cyrus, School Virus is a middle grade novel about a geeky middle school boy who figures out how to shrink himself down to the size of a virus. Instead of calling the news cameras, Lenny uses this scientific breakthrough to insert his miniaturized self into the body of Zooey, a girl he's had a crush on for five years.
The story is told in alternating chapters from the perspectives of Lenny, Zooey, and Lenny's best friend, Harlan. These alternating viewpoints are necessary, given that, you know, Lenny can't see what's going on outside of Zooey's body for much of the story. The voices of the three kids aren't incredibly diverse, but their situations are so different that I only once had trouble remembering who was narrating a given chapter (this was late in the book, where the chapters become quite brief as the action ramps up).
Despite the characters being in middle school, Lenny Cyrus, School Virus feels like a middle grade novel. The plot is a fun ride, though it does require a certain suspension of belief. Lenny and Harlan are able to communicate by cell phone, for example, while Lenny is miniaturized to the size of a virus. The other viruses and cells and what-have-you inside of Zooey have faces and personalities and active social lives.
[Personally, the detail that I found most implausible was that Lenny's parents could be high school sweethearts, and both have IQs above 187. How could there be two super-geniuses like that in one high school? And if there were, how could they be normal enough to function and marry? But that is a quibble.]
There are crushes, and one ludicrous attempt at a kiss, but there's no serious dating or anything like that. There is bullying, but even that is rendered more in humorous than serious vein. (Remember that scene in A Christmas Story where Ralphie beats up the bully? Yeah. Like that.)
Schreiber's writing is witty, albeit with a scientific bent. I flagged quite a number of passages. Like:
""Are you crying?"
"What? No. No. I'm just ... sweating."
"From your eyes?"
I gazed at her, unable to speak. I was only eight years old, but I knew true beauty when I saw it. She had smooth hair that swung down past her shoulders and the kind of scratchy voice that made it sound like she'd just stopped laughing or was about to start again. Behind her glasses, her eyes were that mure methylene blue that you only see in perfectly balanced chemical solutions." (Page 4, Lenny)
"The moment they saw us--saw me--a predatory glint flashed through Mick's expression. Anybody who doubts that middle school is like a Discovery Channel documentary on natural selection just hasn't been paying attention." (Page 10, Lenny)
And finally (though I could go on):
"He can't help it. You try growing up with two Nobel Prize-winning scientists sitting across the breakfast table from you. Lenny doesn't like to talk about it, but he's at least as smart as his mom and dad, probably smarter. And let's face it: You can't be that smart without being extremely dumb in other ways. It's like the universe strapped this jet-pack on his back, then Gorilla-glued his sneakers to the floor. He's constantly reaching out too far and falling flat on his face." (Page 13, Harlan)
I especially loved that last bit, about the jet-pack and the Gorilla glue. But lots of other passages made me smile, too.
Lenny Cyrus, School Virus includes occasional black and white illustrations by Matt Smith. Small drawings of each narrator mark the start of each chapter, and are helpful in conveying the different personalities of the three kids. Other illustrations bring to life Lenny's inner-world mission. The funniest, I thought, was of a curvaceous molecule located inside Zooey's ovary - but I really can't describe it. An astrovirus who befriends Lenny is pretty cute, too.
So what we have here is, yes, another quasi-science-themed book featuring a smart but geeky male hero (see also Itch by Simon Mayo). But Lenny Cyrus, School Virus is a lot of fun. The shifting perspectives also, I think, help to make the book both boy and girl-friendly. Which is quite an accomplishment for a book in which a pivotal scene takes place inside of an ovary.
Lenny Cyrus, School Virus is not going to be for everyone. But if you know any middle grade or middle school-age kids who like science and/or adventure, and have a good sense of humor, I think they'll enjoy this book. Definitely worth a look for library purchase, and especially recommended for a young friend of mine who lives in Newton, MA.
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Books for Children (@hmhkids)
Publication Date: April 2, 2013
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
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