Debbie and Maureen, Maureen and Debbie . . . they'd been two peas in a pod since they were little, and Debbie thought they'd be that way forever. Then came the middle-school summer when Glenna pushed her way into their lives and Maureen turned all her attention to her new friend, leaving Debbie on her own.
In All Alone in the Universe, Lynne Rae Perkins takes us back to the 1960s, when girls used empty juice cans for curlers, when neighbors helped each other, and when kids could go off biking or hiking on their own.
But some things never change: Children still get hurt when they first discover that others can break up a friendship. After Glenna comes on the scene, Debbie naturally feels all alone and as if no one liked her. Fortunately, with the help of a friendly couple and attentive teachers, Debbie discovers that she can let new people into her life. Some of them will remain acquaintances, but others will become true friends.
Debbie has also reached the age at which she notices that not everyone's parents get along and that some kids have a tough time of it. And thus Debbie learns the importance of reaching out to help those in need. She finds herself becoming more interested in what adults talk about, and as she listens in, she gets another picture of friendship and family.
This is a sweet and nostalgic novel that is geared to older middle readers or younger teens, but it will find an appreciative audience in those who have left adolescence behind. The ending is a bit moralistic, but that might appeal to sixth- or seventh-graders. I wonder, however, if today's children will find Debbie's world a bit too old-fashioned and thus miss the universal message of the story.
Although Perkins's writing style is generally well suited to middle readers, a few lines had me stumped. Here, for example, are two sentences, the second of which sounds pretty but means . . . what?
The street breathed a sigh of relief. The house waited like a scraped knee. (p. 122)
The peek-inside feature on a couple of the commercial bookstore sites shows that the text is punctuated by black and white (pencil?) drawings by the author. They definitely add a charming note to the book.
The audiobook was read by Hope Davis, a new to me narrator who did an excellent job. In fact, the audio edition won an Earphone Award from Audiofile magazine.
Lynne Rae Perkins has a website, which includes teacher activities for her books. All Alone in the Universe was the winner of six awards, including the ALA Booklist Editors' Choice award.
All Alone in the Universe at Amazon
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Published by HarperCollins, 2001
Challenges: Audiobook, 2010, New Author, Support Library, 100+
Source: Borrowed (see review policy)