04 January 2010

Review: All Alone in the Universe by Lynne Rae Perkins

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.

Published by HarperCollins, 2001
ISBN-13: 9780380733026
Challenges: Audiobook, 2010, New Author, Support Library, 100+
Source: Borrowed (see review policy)
YTD: 1
Rating: B−


Julie P. 1/4/10, 9:09 AM  

I sense another one for Booking Daughter!!!

Sandy Nawrot 1/4/10, 9:15 AM  

My daughter has become quite persnickety about what she reads. She's obsessed with vampires these days...

Margot 1/4/10, 1:00 PM  

I like the premise of the book and can see this for my granddaughter (almost 11). She may think it's a little tame now that she's discovered all the fantasy and supernatural novels. Perhaps it's a book for me.

Anonymous,  1/4/10, 2:21 PM  

Sounds okay, but I don't really get the quote either. Waiting like a scraped knee?

bermudaonion 1/4/10, 4:14 PM  

The book sounds good to me since I remember the 60's but I'm trying to figure out the scraped knee thing too.

Beth Kephart 1/4/10, 6:39 PM  

I am going to ponder that scraped knee. I think I will be taking a walk someday and see a house and know that that is the one...

Melody 1/4/10, 7:09 PM  

Sounds good to me! I'll have to check this out!

Michele 1/4/10, 10:43 PM  

It sounds like a good read, although I confess to wondering if I just made up nonsensical phrases (ie, the scraped knee), would I win a literary prize, too? Food for thought.

Kim 1/4/10, 11:45 PM  

Well, aside from the weird scraped knee quote, I think it sounds like a great book. I need to read a couple of young adult books for the twentyten challenge, and this is not a genre I usually dabble in. This one might fit the bill.
Thanks for the great review. I sure remember those nightmare middle school friendship dramas--shudder--but we all lived through them and hopefully, like the girl in the book, grew from them.

Javiera 1/17/10, 4:59 AM  

I read this book many years ago, and although I own it, I'm too lazy to get up and look up the quote for context. However, I just wanted to say that "The house waited like a scraped knee" sounds to me like the house is painful for her, as if she is walking towards it and she can feel it sting because it brings her bad memories.

No clue if that's accurate, but that's what it makes me think of nonetheless :) This is truly a wonderful book.

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