It is true that Lisa Graff’s latest book, Absolutely Almost, brings to mind someone else’s work, but not because Graff is in any way imitative—she’s far too brilliant to sound like someone else. Lately the patrons of my school library have been asking, “Do you have any books like Wonder by R.J. Palacio?” and now I have the perfect offering. Like Wonder, Absolutely Almost is the story of a boy struggling to fit in. Unlike Auggie, however, Graff’s protagonist Albie doesn’t have any noticeable problems; he just cannot succeed at school. Reading is hard. Math is impossible. So much so, in fact, that he can no longer attend private school. His busy parents are not happy. Albie, who now has to adjust to fifth grade in public school, is definitely not happy. A reader might hope for a magic answer: Does Albie have a learning disorder? Will the new nanny fix everything? Something will make it all better, right? Maybe. At the end of Wonder, Auggie was still Auggie—a kid with problems, both ordinary and extraordinary. Albie is also just a kid trying to find his way.
Graff has an uncanny ability to sound exactly like a 10-year-old boy, which allows the reader to feel the “almost” that Albie confronts every day. Graff almost won the National Book Award for A Tangle of Knots; here’s hoping she gets a big award soon. Like Albie, she deserves it.
Jennifer Bruer Kitchel is the librarian for a Pre-K through eighth level Catholic school.