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Sketched simply, this is a story about the year two best friends became quietly less so; painted fully, it's a portrait of a girl's (and an author's) intent obser-vation of the ordinary, and the power of language to make it art. The place is distinct but unspecified, the time is the early seventies: Dark Shadows is on TV, Three Dog Night is on the radio, a girl and her sister sleep "like two pearls sinking through Prell." Debbie and Maureen are best friends, but Glenna has entered the picture, and Debbie is at a loss as to how or why that is, or what to do about it: "Three is a lousy number in a lot of ways. One of those ways is that carnivals always have rides with seats that hold two people, so one person has to act as if she doesn't mind waiting by the fence or riding in a seat by herself or with some other leftover." No, it isn't shaping up to be a good summer for Debbie, and the ultimate betrayal comes when she realizes Maureen is going away on vacation with Glenna and her family. There's no noisy breakup here, just a drifting away that owes as much to fate as it does to summer and to growing up. Debbie's adjustment (a far too clinical word for the resolutely down-to-earth story) is painful but unmelodramatic, and her wry little pen drawings reveal a sense of humor and proportion that will serve her well. All along Perkins shows readers a world of friends waiting to be found, and so they are. One can't know, of course, where autobiography plays a part in this exceptional first novel (Perkins is the author-artist of two first-rate picture books), but Debbie's account of her trials is so rich with metaphors made manifest ("The house waited like a scraped knee") that you feel at heart this is a story of an artist being born. r.s.