Lacking the high humor and deft characterizations that mark Koertge's YA novels, this book for middle graders is overwhelmed by the weight of its lessons. When the Fontaines move from their comfortable suburb to Ibarra Street in ""the heart of the city""--a blighted urban area--neither Joy, ten, nor her mother are very happy about it, in spite of her father's optimism over the effect the move will have on his art. Joy meets Neesha, a streetwise kid who sets out to teach Joy the skills she'll need (a lesson in slang, body language, and ""rappin' ""). Joy also meets or learns of the neighborhood characters: the Parks, the Korean owners of the grocery store; Mr. Lossi, reputed to have had Mafia connections in the past; Mrs. Santiago, who deals in spells and magic; Dimitrios, homeless philosopher and font of wisdom; and a host of others. When a gang lets the neighborhood know that they're taking over a vacant house to serve as the base for their drug-dealing operations, Joy and Neesha refuse to accept the inevitable, devising a scheme to save the house, and rallying the neighbors. When the plan succeeds, the girls are given full credit for saving the entire neighborhood. It's all too pat to be believable, and the characters mn close to caricature, and often outright stereotype. Hanging over the story are instances of preaching, rampant political correctness, and heavy-handed messages of tolerance.