A 12-year-old gets a tutorial in the consequences of irresponsible behavior and the dangers of bad company in this earnestly cautionary novel. At his mother's behest, Dean keeps a journal of what turns out to be a traumatic year, beginning with a parental interview after he threatens his tattletale little sister and ending with a community service sentence for joy-riding with a drunk, high, underage driver. In between, his bike is stolen and the family dog gets run over--both consequences of his own carelessness--he is caught lying and shoplifting, and he watches his best friend Aaron and a new buddy drink beer, act stupid, and throw up. Newcomer Alford takes on a catalog of other issues too, as topical as ear-piercing and as timeless as dealing with bullies. The journal entries are only a pretext, readily abandoned; Dean's comments generally take up no more than a few lines at the head or tail of each chapter, and are mostly of the whiny variety, while the real stories emerge in the paragraphs of first-person narration. It's not entirely a tale of woe: Dean wins a student council seat, has a first date, and gains more wholesome friends, but some readers will wilt under the barrage of lessons.