This is the sort of urban story, based on a real occurrence, that Peggy Mann specializes in. Here though there's a little more texture to the fictionalization and, for young readers, some novelty to the topic--a secret project in behavior modification in which five incorrigible junior high schoolers axe trained to change their teachers' treatment of them by reinforcing positive contacts with behavior of their own that you'd expect the teachers to recognize as flagrant brown-nosing. (And why is Richard, who remains incorrigible to the end, the only one to recognize that the whole program is just a sneaky way of changing the kids?) Anyway, Richard's continued intractability and his ultimate sabotaging of the project by tipping off the teachers does help make the rest of the group's progress believable, and Varnell's longstanding problem with Richard, whose demands for protection money had led to Varnell's misbehavior (stealing) and who later tries to bum down Varnell's house, help fit the events of the project into a larger plot. In the end you're not sure whether this is a fictionalized lesson in behavior mod or an exploitation of the experiment for the sake of a story. Either way, it never becomes more than the sum of its parts, but the parts are balanced and integrated enough to hold attention.