Almost There and Almost Not – Linda Urban

  Almost There and Almost Not – Linda Urban. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2021. 9781534478800 

Format: Advanced Reader’s Copy

Rating:  1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 4

 Genre: Realistic fiction/Fantasy

 What did you like about the book? Eleven-year-old California Poppy has been through a lot in her young life.  Her mother died when California was just 7, and she and her father have been struggling to get by.  She has trouble at school, and her body is maturing faster than her peers.  Her father’s drinking and unsavory friendships finally cause California’s school to take action in the form of an “Official Meeting,” and soon enough California finds herself dumped off with her Aunt Isabelle while her father says he is headed to Alaska for salmon season.  Aunt Isabelle is not really suited for raising a tween girl either, and brings her to Great Aunt Monica’s house.  Monica is recently widowed, and also has a broken arm in a full cast, so she is in need of companionship, even if California is not ready to provide it.  Shortly after her arrival, California encounters a stray dog in Monica’s garden and is surprised to realize that the dog is a ghost.  She also soon meets a human ghost, who turns out to be Eleanor Fontaine.  Eleanor is an ancestor of California’s, an Emily Post-type author of books on manners and letter-writing, and Monica’s late husband had been working on a biography of her before he passed away; Monica has made it her purpose to finish the research.  California soon learns that Eleanor grew up under pretty rough circumstances herself.  Eleanor’s ghost appears and reappears at different ages of her life, and the two develop an interesting relationship as California comes to terms with her current situation and the truth about her father’s whereabouts.  

California’s first-person narration is full of heart and wisdom.  Readers will be rooting for her from the very first short chapter, and will laugh and maybe even cry a little along her journey of self-discovery.  The narrative is interspersed with letters she writes (at first, she sends multiple letters to her Aunt Isabelle but in time her letters to “Bella” become more of a journaling activity).  The concepts of afterlife (the idea that Eleanor and the dog can’t see each other, Eleanor does not understand that she is a ghost, and the way she comes back and forth in various stages of her life) are thought-provoking for sure.     

Anything you did not like about the book? no

 To whom would you recommend this book? Definitely best geared for upper elementary and middle school readers due to some mature subject matter, it’s a great choice for fans of Leslie Connor, Kate Messner, and others who blend a little fantasy into their realistic fiction.  

Who should buy this book? Public, elementary and middle school libraries

Where would you shelve it?  Fiction

 Should we (librarians) put this on the top of our “to read” piles?  no

 Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City:  Leigh Russell King, Lincoln Street School, Northborough, Massachusetts.

Date of review: 4/15/2021

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