62 pages • 2 hours readLisa Graff
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Ten-year-old Albin “Albie” Schaffhauser, the book’s protagonist, is an only child and claims German and Korean heritage on his father’s and mother’s sides respectively. His best friend is Erlan Kasteev, who lives down the hall from him in his apartment complex. Over the course of the story, he also develops a close friendship with Betsy, a classmate at his new school, as well as Calista, his new babysitter.
Albie struggles academically, finding it challenging to do simple calculations and similar tasks that his peers complete with ease. Mountford Prep, his old school, even dismissed him due to these difficulties. No one seems to understand that he learns more easily with repetitive activities; stacking cups helps him do “accidental math,” and he builds the model airplane easily the second time around. Even toward the beginning of the book, he easily explains New York geography to Calista, as he is familiar with the city he has spent his whole life in.
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While Albie feels pressured academically, it is noteworthy that he feels insecure around neither Erlan nor Betsy, both of whom are high-achieving students. The pressure is due solely to his family’s groundless expectations of him, which lead him to see himself as an “almost” who can never quite do what is expected of him, inspiring the title of the book.
By Lisa Graff