Paul Martin, 14, recalls his year in ""the Squirrelcage"" -- the psychiatric ward at San Francisco County General Hospital. The reason for Paul's incarceration? Well, as is amplified in flashbacks, Paul has been ""acting out"" more and more in his unhappy relationship with Mom and stepfather Harry: he did hit Mom on one occasion (half-accidentally), even if he's not guilty of all the nasty stunts that Harry blames him for. In any case, Paul--who thinks that he's only at the hospital for tests--is soon informed that he's going to be kept, for an indefinite period, in the ""long-term"" Social Adjustment Ward. He's furious, of course; when he gets violent, a sudden injection soon has him doing the ""Thorazine Shuffle."" But, after a while, Paul more or less accepts his situation--talking to the other kids, getting along with gay roommate Tim (""I'm locked up in a zoo, in a room with a faggot who keeps staring at Travolta""), having first sex with loving runaway Robin. (""We didn't really do it. . . I was a different person. I wasn't alone anymore."") Eventually, Paul--a.k.a., ""the Brain""--even becomes something of a ringleader, arranging for all the kids to read their psychiatric files and helping to plan a New Year's Eve riot. More importantly, however, Paul develops real therapeutic rapport with social-worker Ruth (more sympathetic than the creepy shrinks); she realizes that he's basically a good, sane kid--and arranges for his release. So Paul has to do some clever manipulation to call off that riot (which would ruin Ruth's plans)--after which there's an edgy homecoming, with Paul deciding to forgive poor, weak Mom for having had him locked up. (""She started crying, and I didn't think it was the time to tell her that what was so wrong putting me away was simply that it was a hideous place to send a kid--into that type of situation."") The Snake Pit, kiddiestyle, without much depth or psychological authenticity: more like a TV-movie scenario or a jumped-up juvenile than a full-fledged grownup novel.