A sparkler. . . . My friend Al the nonconformist says she has a high I.Q. but doesn't work to capacity. She comes to our house for dinner a lot, especially when her mother (who's divorced) goes out. ""I don't always know what she is talking about"" even though we're both in the seventh grade but we're best friends and we like the same people--like Mr. Keogh at school (who doesn't call her Alexandra, which she hates) and Mr. Richards, assistant superintendent in our building. I introduced them and when Al wasn't allowed to take shop at school Mr. Richards taught us how to build a bookcase. And when Al was really getting fat he substituted carrot sticks for bread and sugar (and said nothing, which was nice). When he died was the only time I saw Al cry and her mother even broke a date to stay with her that night--I guess she understood how special Mr. Richards was to us. . . . A Girl Called Al has some of the precocious sting of Ellen Grae and the benefit of a contemporary happy-family girl (forever nameless) to put it into perspective.