Monday, December 1, 2014
Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff
I thought about that summer the minute I started reading Absolutely Almost. There are so many real kids as well as protagonists out there that are smart, clever, sassy, snarky, funny, talented. They are admired and bragged about ad nauseam, and the ones who do not fit into these attributes, usually get the job of taken-for-granted best friend, crowd follower, narcissistic extension of parents, or the school/street bully. But now, there is ten year-old Albie, half-Korean, half-Swiss, and absolutely almost good at anything.
Albie has just be kicked out of the private Manhattan prep school he attended with his best friend Erlan for poor academic performance. Now, he's on his way to PS 183. He won't be seeing Erlan much any more and not just because of the new school, but because Erlan's family is going to be the subject of a new reality TV show. And Albie's mom has just hired a babysitter/tutor for him, Calista, an art student in college. Oh yes, and his mom has taken away his newest copy of Captain Underpants, the one book her very reluctant reader son likes, and replaced it with Johnny Tremain, the book SHE liked at his age.
All this sounds like it would spell disaster for him, but things absolutely almost don't turn out so badly for Albie. For one thing, Calista is kind of a lossey-goosey companion, who doesn't mind changing his mom's plans and who really gets Albie. So, right off the bat, instead of going to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, she lets Albie show the new-to-New York Calista the ropes for getting around the city and all kinds of fun stuff to do - both areas of expertise for him. Naturally, it doesn''t take long for a bond to form between them.
At school, Albie's new teacher, Mrs. Rouse, signs him up for Math Club. It is really a class for students struggling with math run by Mr. Clifton, but no one ever lets on that that is the case, much to their credit. Albie is also tested to see if he is dyslexic, but that turns out to not be the case. And Albie even makes a new friend at school. Betsy doesn't speak often because of a severe stutter, but she does give Albie a big smile and she shares her gummy bears with him at lunch. And, of course, he meets the class bully, Darren Anderson.
Albie's change in circumstances after being kicked out of prep school means that each of the newcomers in his life, including Hugo at the bodega where he and Calista stop into every day to buy Albie a donut, will enrich Albie's life in their own different way and contribute to Albie's self-acceptance.
Absolutely Almost is narrated by Albie, which gives the reader insight into his thought processes and what a privilege that is. As Albie tells his story, you realize what an astute observer he is, noticing things around him that others don't even see. Which also makes you think that perhaps his problem is not intelligence, but focus, or rather, not focusing on the main thing, but on what is surrounding it. I think Albie has something to learn and to teach us about the uniqueness of our kids. Sometimes, no matter what, they are just not going to fit into a preconceived idea about who they are or should be.
There are lots of Albie's in classes all over the country. They are fun, lovable, kind kids, just like he is. It used to be that these kids would fall through the cracks and no one would notice it or them. Thanks to Absolutely Almost, and Lisa Graff willingness to write about book about an average hero, maybe we will start noticing them more. You never know how a child can bloom until you really see and accept them for who they really are.
This is a great middle grade novel that kids and parents might really benefit from reading aloud together.
There is a wonderful reading guide available for Absolutely Almost, which you can find HERE
This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was borrowed from the NYPL