Monday, December 1, 2014

Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff

When my Kiddo was around 8, we were at the beach, sharing a vacation house with family from Washington DC.  Her older cousin Mary was a gymnast with a few nice wins under her belt and her cousin Daniel was quite a good artist.  One day, after watching Mary do gymnastics all over the house, the beach and the street, and after watching Daniel sit with his ("no, I don't share them") art supplies, she turned to me and, with a crestfallen face, asked why she didn't have a talent, too.  "Talented" was a word she heard a lot that summer, but not about her.

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


  1. It sounds wonderful! Thanks so much for sharing your insights and enthusiasm.

    1. It is wonderful, and though it is sometimes hard to read, I think it was a book that needed to be written. Lisa Graff is a great job bringing Albie to life.

  2. I found your review on the kid lit blog hop. Thanks for sharing , I'm intrigued to read the book now :)

  3. So excited to see this one, which my daughters listed in their collective top 5 for the year, reviewed on your site! Found you through the Kid Lit Blog Hop. Looking forward to sharing this!

  4. Oh yes, the kids who are not the special ones....
    What an interesting concept for a book. I will have to check that out.
    I have come over from the #KidLitBlogHop.

  5. Hi Alex, this one really does sound lovely. I laughed when I read about Erlan's family becoming part of a reality TV show. Reality TV is so much a part of life now but was unheard of when I was growing up.
    Just before I go I wanted to let you know I’m having a giveaway on my blog. There are eight vintage books on offer. Barbara.

  6. What a fun book and so needed for middle graders. Thanks for sharing on the Kid Lit Blog Hop!

  7. I love the message behind this book ~ it's so tough for children this age who perhaps feel like they are not fitting into the mainstream (whatever the reason may be). Great recommendation! Thanks for linking into the Kid Lit Blog Hop!


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