Achingly superb, Albie’s story shines

ABSOLUTELY ALMOST

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)

Pub Date: June 12, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-399-16405-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Philomel

Review Posted Online: April 16, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2014

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Readers can still rely on this series to bring laughs.

WRECKING BALL

From the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series , Vol. 14

The Heffley family’s house undergoes a disastrous attempt at home improvement.

When Great Aunt Reba dies, she leaves some money to the family. Greg’s mom calls a family meeting to determine what to do with their share, proposing home improvements and then overruling the family’s cartoonish wish lists and instead pushing for an addition to the kitchen. Before bringing in the construction crew, the Heffleys attempt to do minor maintenance and repairs themselves—during which Greg fails at the work in various slapstick scenes. Once the professionals are brought in, the problems keep getting worse: angry neighbors, terrifying problems in walls, and—most serious—civil permitting issues that put the kibosh on what work’s been done. Left with only enough inheritance to patch and repair the exterior of the house—and with the school’s dismal standardized test scores as a final straw—Greg’s mom steers the family toward moving, opening up house-hunting and house-selling storylines (and devastating loyal Rowley, who doesn’t want to lose his best friend). While Greg’s positive about the move, he’s not completely uncaring about Rowley’s action. (And of course, Greg himself is not as unaffected as he wishes.) The gags include effectively placed callbacks to seemingly incidental events (the “stress lizard” brought in on testing day is particularly funny) and a lampoon of after-school-special–style problem books. Just when it seems that the Heffleys really will move, a new sequence of chaotic trouble and property destruction heralds a return to the status quo. Whew.

Readers can still rely on this series to bring laughs. (Graphic/fiction hybrid. 8-12)

Pub Date: Nov. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4197-3903-3

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Amulet/Abrams

Review Posted Online: Nov. 19, 2019

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A solid debut: fluent, funny and eminently sequel-worthy.

ALMOST SUPER

Inventively tweaking a popular premise, Jensen pits two Incredibles-style families with superpowers against each other—until a new challenge rises to unite them.

The Johnsons invariably spit at the mere mention of their hated rivals, the Baileys. Likewise, all Baileys habitually shake their fists when referring to the Johnsons. Having long looked forward to getting a superpower so that he too can battle his clan’s nemeses, Rafter Bailey is devastated when, instead of being able to fly or something else cool, he acquires the “power” to strike a match on soft polyester. But when hated classmate Juanita Johnson turns up newly endowed with a similarly bogus power and, against all family tradition, they compare notes, it becomes clear that something fishy is going on. Both families regard themselves as the heroes and their rivals as the villains. Someone has been inciting them to fight each other. Worse yet, that someone has apparently developed a device that turns real superpowers into silly ones. Teaching themselves on the fly how to get past their prejudice and work together, Rafter, his little brother, Benny, and Juanita follow a well-laid-out chain of clues and deductions to the climactic discovery of a third, genuinely nefarious family, the Joneses, and a fiendishly clever scheme to dispose of all the Baileys and Johnsons at once. Can they carry the day?

A solid debut: fluent, funny and eminently sequel-worthy. (Adventure. 10-12)

Pub Date: Jan. 21, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-06-220961-0

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2013

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