Almost There and Almost Not

by Linda Urban (Author)

Reading Level: 4th – 5th Grade

From acclaimed author Linda Urban comes the funny, bittersweet story of a girl and her ghosts--and the welcoming home they find where they least expect it. California Poppy has been dropped off, yet again, with an unsuspecting relative. This time it's her eccentric Great-Aunt Monica, a woman she's never even met. Aunt Monica has no idea what to do with an eleven-year-old, so she puts California to work researching their ancestor, the once-famous etiquette expert Eleanor Fontaine.

California soon discovers that Great-Great-Great Aunt Eleanor is...not exactly alive and well, but a ghost--and a super sensitive one at that. The grand dame bursts into clouds of dust whenever she loses her composure, which happens quite often. Still, an unexpected four-legged friend and some old-fashioned letter writing make this decidedly strange situation one that California can handle. Just as California's starting to feel like she's found a place for herself, life turns upside-down yet again. Thankfully, this time she has some friends almost by her side...

Publishers Weekly

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.)

Copyright 2021 Publishers Weekly, LLC Used with permission.

School Library Journal

Gr 4 Up—In this poignant tale of dealing with ghosts, both literal and figurative, 11-year-old California Poppy, who is white, hasn't had it easy; her mom died a few years ago, and her dad isn't very attentive. Now her dad has an opportunity to earn some money in Alaska—but that's no place for a girl, according to him, so California is sent to one aunt, and then another while he's away. As California gets settled in at her Great-Aunt Monica's house, she discovers some unique housemates: the ghost of her ancestor, Eleanor; a famous etiquette expert; and Dog, another ghost, who brings her scraps of paper on which mysterious notes are written. Soon, California is helping Great-Aunt Monica, learning how to write proper letters from Eleanor, and playing with Dog. Things seem pretty great, but California knows it could all change if she has to leave again. This tale of friendly ghosts is more appropriate for fans of realistic fiction than spooky stories; the text, sprinkled with California's letters to everyone from her Aunt Isabel to a tampon company, infuses the text with the girl's personality. California blossoms from a girl with low self-esteem into someone who believes in herself, her talents, and her family's love. Urban's gentle treatment of tough topics like loss, neglect, and alcoholism makes them accessible for younger readers. VERDICT Characters shine in this story of unlikely friendships and familial love; a solid addition to any middle grade collection.—Alison Glass, Dwight Sch. Lib., New York, NY

Copyright 2021 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

Review quotes

"Urban deftly tackles loss, longing, loneliness, and neglect...Skillfully written with well-drawn characters." —Kirkus Reviews
Linda Urban
Linda Urban's debut novel, A Crooked Kind of Perfect, was a BookSense pick, a New York Public Library Best Book for Reading and Sharing, and was nominated for twenty state awards. A former independent bookseller at Vroman's in Pasadena, California, she now writes full time in Montpelier, Vermont, where she lives with her family. Visit her website at

Lexile Measure
Guided Reading Level
Publication date
April 20, 2021

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