Susan Shreve, . . Knopf, $15.95 (208pp) ISBN 978-0-375-82630-6

The tone and rhythm of the tweenage blues are deftly captured in this heartfelt story of a special friendship. On the day she turns 12 and all of her friends are attending another girl's party, narrator Ellie Tremont's grim mood lifts when she meets her new neighbor, Tommy Bowers, a charismatic 13-year-old who holds an unlit cigarette in his mouth and is reputed to be a "handful." At a time when Ellie is feeling out of sorts ("Nothing bad happens to me but the sadness comes creeping over my shoulder like an insect"), Tommy offers unconditional acceptance and excitement. Together, the two create a secret getaway under the old Watson sisters' porch, where they sit on beach chairs, share confidences and plant a "magic" lollipop garden. Ellie's summer would be nearly perfect if it weren't for her mother's disapproval of Tommy and her own creeping suspicions that he perhaps goes too far breaking rules. With her taut writing, Shreve (The Flunking of Joshua T. Bates ; Trout and Me ) creates an ideal outsider in Ellie, who gives voice to the inexplicable ennui of budding adolescence. The author tenderly evokes the thrill and anxiety of first love and the universal yearning to belong as she invites readers to form their own judgments about characters' motives and moralities. Ages 9-13. (July)