Saturday, July 12, 2014
Absolutely Almost, written by Lisa Graff. Philomel Books, Penguin. 2014. $18.99 ages 9 and up
Right after that, Albie tells us that 'By fourth grade, I was an almost every day.' Will Albie ever be good enough? While he has an acerbic wit and a wry sense of humor, Albie also faces the constant challenge of trying to meet the expectations of others.
He is not a top student; that is made abundantly clear by the administration at the private school he has been attending. Because of his 'struggling' grades, he is asked to leave. P.S. 183 is sure to be better: he hopes. His parents are angry and confused. His grandfather is dismissive. Albie is stressed.
The move results in a new friend, Betsy. She stutters and is an outcast because of it. Albie feels he has met a soulmate in his ongoing battle to be more than 'almost'. His new babysitter is a revelation. She is going to help him with spelling and math, and be a companion. Calista is open, and easy-going, encouraging him to branch out and to try new things. She listens when Albie talks, and hears what he is saying. Both new friends help him feel more positive and capable.
Some of the scenes are poignant and heartbreaking. When his mother discovers that Albie is reading Captain Underpants books, she disregards his interest and suggests a much more difficult book that holds no interest for her son. He pretends that he is reading it with help from Calista. Albie is an astute observer of his own world. He faultlessly discusses those things that he is good at, and also his weaknesses. Despite some setbacks, he moves forward at a slow and steady pace.
The writing is outstanding, giving us characters to admire and abhor. Albie's voice is strong and incredibly perceptive. The issues he deals with could overwhelm an audience; in Lisa Graff's deft hands the reader never feels burdened by them. Instead, we move forward with Albie as he makes progress toward being who he is meant to be.
You will not forget him. You will be tempted to read his story again. This is another remarkable middle grade novel that would provide a perfect start to a brand new reading year for your class, or for your family.
"Some days, he pushed his shoulder into me while I was
getting into my cubby.
Some days, he called me "dummy" or "retard" or worse.
Some days, it bothered me.
Some days, it didn't.
But every day, what I tried to do was to roll the names
Darren called me around in my head, over over over, until
the edges were smooth and the words weren't so painful.
Sometimes it worked.
Sometimes it didn't.
But still I kept rolling. That was the only thing I had to