ON THE OUTSIDE LOOKING IN by Cristina Rathbone


Stories from an Inner City High School
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 Journalist Rathbone, who has written for the New York Daily News and the Miami Herald, spent a year observing life in a New York City public high school--and found herself in deeper than she'd expected. The hero of her book is West Side High's principal, Ed Reynolds, who welcomes kids with histories of disciplinary problems and who have met with sundry other failures at traditional schools. Reynolds distinguishes himself not only by becoming a figure to whom students can feel close (most call him ``Ed,'' and with respect) but also by taking a personal interest in seemingly every even vaguely redeemable hard-luck student case. Rathbone reflects that Reynolds's empathy was shaped in large part by having lost his foster son, who was involved in drugs, to suicide. The author's own vision, however, can seem a bit uneven at times. In her fascinating look at the gangs so popular with some of her subjects, she unveils for outsiders a world that would otherwise remain mostly invisible. Still, she gives too much credit to the family relationships fostered by gangs. For example, Rathbone laments the ``divorce'' of two teenage members of a gang who were first ``married'' by the authority of the organization's ritual. In fairness, though, the author is the first to concede that her loyalties may sometimes have been skewed by her own troubled upbringing. And she is able to maintain a professional distinction between the high-school teachers' feelings about her as an outsider and her recognition that these teachers are giving fully of themselves to help their kids. It's this level of honesty and admittedly imperfect objectivity that make Rathbone's experiment a success. She contrives no happy endings for students who cannot find them. Neither does she paint a hopeless picture to assail or depress us. Her version of the facts is refreshing. (Author tour)

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-87113-707-0
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 1997