Absolutely Almost from Lisa Graff, author of National Book Award nominee Tangle of Knots, is the quintessential summer read for upper elementary students and their parents and teachers. After struggling academically during the last school year, Albie is starting fifth grade at a new school. His best friend, Erlan, is constantly busy since his family’s life became the subject of a reality show. Albie does not want to keep being the kid who is almost good enough. However, he still has trouble with homework at his new school, and his parents are continually frustrated by his poor performance. His dad is forgetful and always too busy. His mom thinks Albie is not living up to his potential. When she finds out he’s been reading Captain Underpants, she gives him Johnny Tremain instead. It will take the help of Albie’s new babysitter, the math club teacher, and new friend, Betsy, to make Albie realize what he is good at, the importance of doing what you love, and what it takes to be a good friend.
I found this story incredibly moving. There is a fair amount of humor here to keep a young reader’s interest, but the story is also packed with heart. It is told from the perspective of Albie, and the reader oftentimes understands situations better than Albie, which can be heartbreaking to read. Readers looking for the next book to read after Wonder by R.J. Palacio will find a lot to love here. Both books feature an incredibly kind and likable character who feels different in some way from other kids and faces bullies. The importance of kindness and empathy are grand themes in both stories.
What makes Absolutely Almost such a stellar book is how approachable it remains throughout, even when dealing with deep themes. The writing is light and fast, and the chapters are all short (it would make a great read-aloud in school or as a family). Children and adult readers alike will grasp the larger complexities of the story without feeling like they are reading a heavy “issues” book. Additionally, the book features a diverse set of characters without ever making diversity a plot point.
I hope this book will find its way into the hands of many kids and their parents and teachers. Albie is a character worth rooting for, and his story is one readers will want to discuss.
You can place a hold on the book in the Library catalog right now. If you have to wait, be sure to check out “You Might Also Like These…” at the bottom of the book’s catalog page.
This review was previously published by the Deerfield Review.