In a tale about not being good enough, Graff introduces readers to a young hero who struggles to measure up.
Graff, whose A Tangle of Knots was on the 2013 National Book Award longlist, here gracefully fuses heartache with a gentle humor and candor. Life is stressful for Albie. Mom and Dad struggle to understand him, and his grandpa Park creates tension with his withering appraisal. When he gets kicked out of his pricey Manhattan private school due to academic shortcomings, Albie must deal with his parents’ outbursts and his own dizzying emotions. This marks a turning point, though; with his move to P.S. 183, he gains an ally in a fellow outcast, the stuttering Betsy, and his new babysitter, free-wheeling art student Calista, listens to him in a way the other adults in his life do not. These relationships carry him through some improbable plot twists into understanding and self-acceptance. The prose is sparse, simple and conversational, capturing turmoil both internal and external perfectly: “Potential. Struggling. Achievement gap. [These are words] that make my dad slam his fist on the table and call my teacher to shout…and my mom to go out and buy fruit. When Mom comes back with strawberries, her face is always crystal clear. Not an almost-crying face at all. I used to really like strawberries.”
Achingly superb, Albie’s story shines. (Fiction. 8-12)