Penguin, 2014 292 pgs
Ten-year-old Albie has always been "almost". He almost wins games, gets decent grades, and gets his artwork displayed in school. Albie's overachieving parents expect more out of him and he feels like a constant disappointment to them. His new school year is one of change: his best friend and neighbor stars in a reality tv show prompting the family to move into a bigger New York City apartment building, he gets dismissed from his private school and must start the year at a public school where he doesn't know anybody, and his mother hires a new after school babysitter, which he feels is unnecessary. Albie weathers the storms with the help of the new babysitter, who becomes a friend, understanding new teachers, a new school friend, and the donuts. Eventually as the year goes on Albie's life goes from bad to worse: the babysitter gets fired for something he feels is his fault, after a brief encounter with popularity he falls from grace, loosing his new friend in the process, and he can't raise his grades no matter how hard he works further disappointing his parents. Finally, Albie comes to terms with his strengths, repairs his friendships, and sees his parents for what they are: flawed people who try to be good parents and who love him very much.
Absolutely Almost is a very different book then that of a Tangle of Knots released by the same author last year. Critics loved Tangle of Knots, while I found it to be confusing and over the top. With this book I was expecting more chaotic fantasy with a lot of characters and clever coincidences. Boy was I wrong. Absolutely Almost is a deceivingly thoughtful book about a kind and lonely boy. My heart went out to Albie and I almost cried when his mother fired the babysitter, who was the only adult who paid attention to him. By the end of the book we are more sympathetic to both parents and realize that they are trying and love Albie even though they don't understand a child who isn't as ambitious as they are. Albie is sweet and very naive. He doesn't ever catch on that the "math club" he goes to every day is really a resource class and he doesn't understand many social nuances. Even though the book is thoughtful, it is not boring. The plot is realistic and simple, dealing with the struggles of an average ten-year-old: bullies, grades, making sense of a confusing world. As always, I love a New York City setting. With the New York setting and the struggling social school plot, the book was reminiscent of Wonder, but not really. Absolutely Almost is less sensational than Wonder and much more relate-able. The chapters are short and the book reads fast. It would be a wonderful choice for reluctant readers, especially boys. It is impossible to read this book and not fall in love with Albie, or get a craving for donuts!