cover image Almost There and Almost Not

Almost There and Almost Not

Linda Urban. Atheneum, $17.99 (224p) ISBN 978-1-5344-7880-0

After her mother’s death four years ago, California Poppy, now 11, is left with a father unable to handle “girl things” such as buying bras. Seeking jobs in Alaska, California’s dad deposits her at his sister-in-law Isabelle’s house; Isabelle, in turn, promptly dumps California with Great-Aunt Monica. On California’s first day at Aunt Monica’s, a mysterious dog shows up in the yard and delivers an old letter; soon after, California’s great-great-great aunt Eleanor appears. Turns out both are ghosts, and Dog continues to bring California letters written by Aunt Eleanor. Mourning the loss of her husband, Aunt Monica is finishing his pet project: a biography of his great aunt Eleanor, with which California is conscripted to help. Details about California’s struggles—the early maturity of her body, the neglect she suffered living with her father, and challenges at school—unfurl in poignant matter-of-fact reveals, including repeated references to being “dumb,” and the fact she learned about her period solely through a puberty class video. Letters to Aunt Isabelle, the Playtex Company, and her father intersperse California’s personable narrative, which celebrates quiet moments of kindness and the eventual discovery of love in her life. Ages 10–up. Agent: Jennifer Laughran, Andrea Brown Literary. (Apr.)