cover image All Alone in the Universe

All Alone in the Universe

Lynne Rae Perkins. HarperCollins, $16.99 (144pp) ISBN 978-0-688-16881-0

Perkins's (Home Lovely) first novel is a lively coming-of-age story filled with touching moments. The penciled illustrations, scribbled in between the narrative, resemble classic doodles of the junior high English notebook variety, and give 13-year-old narrator Debbie immediate credibility. The book chronicles eight months from the time when Debbie's best friend since third grade, Maureen, starts spending all her time with another classmate, Glenna. Debbie is devastated by the loss (""I felt off-balance, as if someone kept borrowing my right foot for a few minutes""). But as she gets to know a neglected neighbor girl, she realizes how many people love her: her parents, teachers and eventually, a few new friends. And she learns that as a person who is cared for, she must watch out for others who are not so fortunate. While there's not a lot of plot here, it's Debbie's fresh voice, perceptive observations and occasionally mean-spirited asides that will win readers over. Recalling Glenna's hold on Maureen, for instance, Debbie says, ""I guess I hoped that she would evaporate.... But she seems to have congealed, like cold gravy and then cement."" Readers will be caught up in Debbie's thoughts from the first page and cheer her hard-won breakthroughs. Ages 10-up. (Oct.)