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Absolutely Almost

Review

Absolutely Almost

Fifth-grader Albie always feels like he's just a little bit behind everyone else, and right now, that feeling is worse than ever. He's just been kicked out of his fancy Manhattan private school because he couldn't keep up with the work, and even at his new public school, he rarely gets more than four out of ten words right on his weekly spelling test. Maybe that's why his dad is always too busy to help him with his model airplane, which Albie has been patiently waiting to build for more than a year. When Albie finally finds a book series he enjoys reading, his mom tells him that Captain Underpants is for babies. She hopes that Albie has dyslexia, just so she can have a label for Albie and a plan for what to do with him.
 
ABSOLUTELY ALMOST is an almost perfect book, the kind of poignantly funny story you're going to want to give to (or, even better, read with) any kids you know who have to work just a little bit harder than everyone else to make it through the day.
 
Albie's best friend Erlan goes to Albie's old school, so they don't see each other as much anymore, especially now that Erlan's family (which has two sets of identical triplets) is the subject of a reality television show. And making friends at his new school hasn't been easy, either; Albie likes spending time with a girl named Betsy, but the class "cool kids" make fun of Betsy for stuttering and call Albie a dummy.
 
Only a couple of grown-ups seem to understand Albie. One is Mr. Clifton, who runs math club at school and tells terrible math-related jokes. He also helps Albie realize that you can do math without even thinking about it. The other is Albie's new babysitter, Calista. At first, Albie resists having a babysitter at all, but Calista's ability to see Albie for who he is, instead of who he should be, makes Albie feel like he might be okay after all, or almost okay, anyway.
 
ABSOLUTELY ALMOST is an almost perfect book, the kind of poignantly funny story you're going to want to give to (or, even better, read with) any kids you know who have to work just a little bit harder than everyone else to make it through the day. Albie's voice is completely convincing and incredibly likeable (much like Albie himself); Lisa Graff makes her hero sympathetic without being pathetic, and readers will want to root for him rather than feel sorry for him. The novel is broken up into short chapters and conveys complex ideas in relatively easy-to-read language, and it deals with issues of friendship, loyalty, self-worth and bullying without ever getting preachy. It can be easy for kids and adults alike to overlook or devalue the kinds of talents Albie possesses --- which include being a first-class expert on New York City as well as being, in his mom's words, "caring and thoughtful and kind." ABSOLUTELY ALMOST reminds us all that there are things to be proud of that don’t involve fastest times or perfect scores.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on June 17, 2014

Absolutely Almost
by Lisa Graff

  • Publication Date: June 12, 2014
  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Philomel
  • ISBN-10: 0399164057
  • ISBN-13: 9780399164057