Lisa Graff

Absolutely Almost

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Absolutely Almost Summary

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Lisa Graff’s novel Absolutely Almost (2014), recommended for children eight to twelve years old, is the poignant story of an average boy who struggles in school. Graf does a nice job of presenting various points of view through characters of different ages and life stages. Absolutely Almost is broken up into short chapters and effectively addresses issues such as self-worth, loyalty, friendship, and bullying without becoming preachy. Albie speaks in a wise and convincing voice. He garners reader sympathy without pity. He is overall, a very likable young boy.

Ten-year-old Albie is in the fifth grade. He has to switch schools, leaving his private school in New York City to attend P.S. 183. His new school is equipped to give Albie more of the attention he needs, especially in reading and math. Relocating isn’t without its problems though. Albie encounters a name-calling bully and has trouble making new friends.

Because of Albie’s academic struggles, his mother hires Calista, a college student to tutor Albie and to spend some social one-on-one time with him. Having misgivings about the new developments in his life, Albie is not happy about leaving his old school. He expresses these reservations openly and honestly, in a humorous manner.

Though she has good intentions, Albie’s mother is ignorant as to how best to help him. Trying to steer him towards reading at a higher-grade level, she mentions that one of the books he enjoys reading is for babies, but Albie doesn’t agree. He eloquently points out that his books aren’t for babies because babies can’t read. Albie’s mother hopes he will be diagnosed with dyslexia so that she has both a label and a treatment plan.

Albie feels bad that he was unable to keep up at his old school. Even at his new school, he rarely gets more than a few words correct on his weekly spelling test. He thinks this might be the reason why his dad doesn’t spend much time with him. Albie has been eagerly and patiently waiting for over a year to build a model airplane with his dad. His internalization of the blame for other people’s behavior goes unnoticed.

Albie’s best friend, Erlan attends Albie’s old school so he doesn’t get to see much of him anymore. Erlan’s family, which includes two sets of identical triplets, is the subject of a new reality television show. Albie likes a girl in his class, Betsy, who has a stuttering impediment. He enjoys spending time with her. Both Betsy and Albie are targets of teasing by some of the kids at school.

Only a few adults seem to truly understand Albie. One of them, Mr. Clifton is the teacher that runs the math club at school. He helps Albie to see that he is capable of doing math. The other person is Calista. At first, Albie resisted having Calista tutor him. However, in time, he comes to accept her because she relates to his troubles and helps him feel better about himself. Unfortunately for Albie, Calista is also young and impetuous. When she acts on her noble idea to take Albie to the zoo to cheer him up without his parents’ permission, Albie’s mother fires her.

The novel’s biggest moment comes when it is discovered that Albie doesn’t have dyslexia. He is merely an average child struggling to read and do math. This is the story’s greatest strength, the importance of acceptance and facing up to challenges while working to improve our weaknesses as opposed to hiding behind a label and making excuses. Graf sends the message that true acceptance requires seeing the kid in front of you for who he or she is in that moment without judgment and without limiting potential. Though the book does not come to an easy and tidy conclusion, Albie learns important lessons along the way. Though life may never be easy for him, a strong current of hope runs through the story – no matter what a person’s weaknesses are, it is possible to adapt to or overcome them. Albie is not the smartest kid in the class, and Absolutely Almost shows that this is okay.

An acclaimed and award-winning author, Lisa Graf is a National Book Award nominee. She has written several books, including Absolutely Almost. She received her undergraduate degree from UCLA and earned her MFA in Creative Writing for Children from The New School. She once worked as an associate editor for Farrar, Straus, & Giroux Books for Young Readers. She currently writes full-time from home. Graf lives in Pennsylvania