One of the first critiques I ever received was from a published author. Long story how this came to be so I’ll just tell you what she told me. My chapters were too short and I needed to read more middle grade books to see how they were set up. My chapters ranged from 2-7 pages. She also warned me I needed to have the inciting event in the first 10% of the book. I graciously thanked her for the wisdom she provided and rewrote the entire story with longer chapters along with hooking the reader on page 3. Oh well, turned out to be my practice novel. Since then I’ve learned rules are meant to be broken by established authors if the story begs for that to happen.
In Lisa Graff’s newest, ABSOLUTELY ALMOST, not only do we see short chapters (some only one paragraph) mixed in with longer ones, I was still waiting for the inciting event half way through. Ten-year-old Albie is an unlikely protagonist. He struggles to be school smart, which he isn’t; struggles to be cool, which he isn’t; and struggles to understand the world and the choices people make. He does break through a bit with this last struggle. The reviews have been stellar for this story and it took some time before I could get my reaction in line. I do believe Albie’s tale may be a tougher sell for your average middle grade reader. There’s not much action here and Albie doesn’t do much but live his own life. Sometimes we need this type of quiet story in our always on world
I’ve had many Albies in the classroom and in my mentoring work. What they need is a remedy called success and success of any kind. Albie gets that from his “Not a Babysitter” Calista and several of his teachers. The Albies I’ve crossed paths with would have benefited from this story. It might also work with readers who may not be able to relate to kids like Albie. That’s where the power of this story lies – with understanding that we all are different learners. Expecting kids to all be at a certain point because of their age is set up for failure. Line up 30 kids for a 50 yard dash and they will all finish at different times. Its no different for any other pursuit. Albie demonstrates that principle beautifully.
PUBLICATION DATE: 2014 / 289 Pages
FULL PLOT (From Amazon): Albie has never been the smartest kid in his class. He has never been the tallest. Or the best at gym. Or the greatest artist. Or the most musical. In fact, Albie has a long list of the things he’s not very good at. But then Albie gets a new babysitter, Calista, who helps him figure out all of the things he is good at and how he can take pride in himself.
FIVE THINGS TO LIKE ABOUT ABSOLUTELY ALMOST by Lisa Graff
- Told from the perspective of Albie, his voice rings with honesty and his ten-year-old way of thinking will remind you that there are a lot of things confusing to someone so young.
- Everyone needs a hero in their life. The one person who stands behind you and says “Yes, you can succeed.” Albie has his nanny, Calista, who provides the right light so Albie can find a little success.
- The father is one you will have a growing distaste for. I think he wrote the book “How Not to Parent Your Child.” What I did like is that Albie caused him to change for the better, or at least we hope so.
- Albie’s math club teacher is a person you’d hope most kids have in their school life. He’s someone you can rely on to be there when needed. His math jokes were also entertaining.
- I’d enjoy seeing this book used in a classroom with a diverse group of kids from all ability levels. The rich discussion could start with a simple question “What does being cool mean to you?”
The only thing wrong with my brain was my brain.
Check the links to other Middle Grade novels over at Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.