Those of us who have felt this way will absolutely relate to Albie, the protagonist in Lisa Graff's top-notch middle grade novel Absolutely Almost. Albie seems destined to go through life being not quite good enough at everything he does, to his great frustration. He can't seem to sort out why things he tries don't turn out the way he wants them to, and he seems to fall short in the estimation of the people he loves the most. But then Albie starts a new school, and gets a cool new babysitter - and suddenly Albie begins to realize that while he may not be great at math or reading, he's still perfectly great at being Albie.
I completely adored this novel, and it's all because of Albie. He's a fantastic character with a one-of-a-kind voice to match. Graff has drawn him splendidly, making him come alive on the page from the very first chapter. I love that Albie's passionate about things like donuts and excels at building models, even though he's often made to feel like his interests are somehow less appealing than others. (It's pretty clear that Albie has some delays, but Graff never defines or diagnoses - an aspect I really appreciated.) Your heart will go out to Albie, but don't pity him - though there are some really tough aspects of this book (bullies, his oblivious father), Albie's 100% the hero of this story. He transforms over the course of the book from bystander in his own life to a boy who knows where he's going, even if he's not quite there yet.
Graff draws the reader into Albie's story through the ample use of humor and very realistic situations. She captures that sense of feeling powerless, when decisions that affect Albie's life are made without his input and he has to just go along with the ride. You'll cringe at some of the outcomes, but ultimately you'll end up cheering for a hero who's less Superman and more Captain Underpants -- and despite what Albie's mom thinks, that's pretty darn terrific.
This is a terrific book to hand to kids who enjoyed Wonder or Counting by 7s, for a protagonist who is quirky and completely unique. Don't expect a neat resolution or a glossy happy ending from Absolutely Almost. It just wouldn't be true to the characters. But do expect a book with heart and soul, that will make readers think and feel, and most importantly help them put themselves in another's place. And expect to want donuts. . . lots and lots of donuts!
First lines: "'Not everybody can be the rock at the top of the rock pile.' That's what my Grandpa Park said to my mom once when they thought I was asleep, or just not listening, I don't know. But my ears work fine. 'There have to be some rocks at the bottom, to support those at the top.'"