62 pages • 2 hours readLisa Graff
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“E-mails from school are always bad, but they try to hide it with big words that are hard to understand.
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Words that make my dad slam his fist on the table and call my teacher to shout about setting up a parent-teacher conference, and my mom to go out and buy fruit. When Mom comes back with strawberries, her face is always crystal clear. Not an almost-crying face at all.
I used to really like strawberries.”
This succinct anecdote, recounted through Albie’s eyes, reveals a host of character details: how Dad’s first response to not getting his way is anger, while Mom’s is avoidance and tears; how Albie is exceptionally perceptive, having understood that Mom was “almost-crying” despite not looking like it; and how Albie deeply dislikes disappointing Mom.
“That night, when I checked through my kitchen window to see if Erlan’s bedroom light was on, just before I went to bed, he spied me checking, and he smiled a tiny smile and gave me the Vulcan salute. I Vulcanned back. It was good to know that even if Erlan was about to be a big-time TV star, he was still my best friend.”
The one relationship that remains constant and that Albie is completely secure in is his friendship with Erlan. This moment foreshadows the friendship’s strength; Albie feels reassured that despite Erlan’s upcoming fame, they will still be best friends. The Vulcan salute is an important symbol in their friendship; the usage of symbols to denote Albie’s different relationships is a recurring literary device Graff uses, such as the gummy bears for Betsy, or the model airplane for Dad.
“I’m good at noticing things. I’ve always been good at noticing. Mrs. Lancaster back at Mountford told me. She said that was one of my ‘strengths,’ that I always picked up on tiny details no one else ever saw. She said, ‘Albie, if you had any skill at language, you might’ve made a very fine writer.’”
Albie does have strengths, though they can’t be quantified or graded; therefore, even when acknowledging Albie’s heightened awareness, his teacher devalues it for the lack of accompanying academic skill. Nevertheless, as shown here, at the beginning of the story Albie still has a healthy self-esteem and, despite his teacher’s dismissiveness, prizes his ability to notice details.
By Lisa Graff