Review: All Alone in the Universe by Lynne Rae Perkins

Middle Grade Madness

All Alone in the Universe by Lynne Rae Perkins

“Before last summer Maureen and I were best friends….At least I think we were. I don’t know what happened exactly. As some people who get hit by trucks sometimes say,’I didn’t see anything coming.'” When her best friend since the third grade starts acting as though Debbie doesn’t exist, Debbie finds out the hard way that life can be a lonesome place. But in the end the heroine of this wryly funny coming-of-age story–a girl who lives in a house covered with stuff that is supposed to look like bricks but is just a fake brick pattern–discovers that even the hourly tragedies of junior high school can have silver linings, just as a house covered with Insul-Brick can protect a real home.

Title: All Alone in the Universe
Author: Lynne Rae Perkins
Source: Purchased
Publication date: 1999

I didn’t realize when I got this book that I had already read it, but according to Goodreads I originally read All Alone in the Universe in 2004. I gave it 5 stars at the time and I can’t imagine what I was thinking. It’s not a bad book, but it’s not a 5 star book.

The plot is the common one in middle grade contemporaries: best friends grow apart and the main character is the one left behind, friendless and alone. I don’t know why more of these girls don’t have groups of friends like I did, but even when they do, it’s never the one friend leaving the group but the group splitting or the whole group abandoning one girl. In this case it’s Debbie and her plight is heartbreaking. Like most girls in these books, she never sees it coming. One day she and Maureen are best friends, the next there’s an interloper: Glenna. Then Glenna takes Maureen on vacation with her and when they return, Maureen doesn’t even bother to let Debbie know.

All Alone in the Universe is set in the 1960s or 70s. It took me awhile to realize that, but I guess the names Debbie and Maureen should have been my first clue. Modern technology is absent and it’s mentioned that Maureen watches Dark Shadows (which ran from 1966 to 1971) every day. But what really clued me in is that Debbie has never had fresh blueberries, a fact that floored me. I mean, they were on sale for 99 cents a pint a couple of weeks ago — in winter! Debbie, though, has only seen them in pancakes or pie, until she’s offered some when visiting with an older rich woman named Mrs. Brown and her gardener George.

“I can’t believe it,” I said. “I’m just left by myself, like we were never friends, like I don’t even exist.” I didn’t understand, I said, how someone could just forget about a person.

Mrs. Brown can relate:

“I had a husband who did the same thing,” she said to me. “I got a house out of the deal,” she added, nodding in the direction of the house, “but all in all, I would have preferred the husband. It’s very painful, isn’t it?”

Later in the book, when Debbie is finally finding her footing again, she sees Maureen and Glenna walking together — along with Maureen’s boyfriend.

Glenna’s smile was pasted to her frozen face as she matched her pace to theirs. From behind her determined brightness peered the eyes of a frightened animal. They passed by our window and, for an accidental instant Glenna’s rattled eyes met mine. I wanted to feel satisfaction and revenge. But it was too much like looking into a mirror. I couldn’t fit any spite into the small smile I tossed out like a tiny, halfhearted lifeline.

That’s okay, Debbie. I’ll feel the satisfaction and revenge for you.

In between those two scenes, Debbie mopes around mourning the loss of her best friend and tries to keep busy. She even spends a little time, out of both desperation and curiosity, with Marie, a slightly older neighbor who dates even older boys and has real problems at home, before finally settling in with a group of girls who had been in her class all along. They’re more Debbie’s speed than Marie, and it’s nice to see Debbie happy again.

All Alone in the Universe is a companion to Criss Cross (which is set a little later). I saw Criss Cross in my library so I’ll be picking it up soon to continue reading about Debbie.

3 1/2 stars