A self-important debut that focuses on the plight of inner- city schools. Insel makes the mistake of thinking that an important topic, without a coherent and inventive story, can form the basis for a novel. Through a multi-perspective narrative, she relates the tale of the principal, the teachers, and the students at a failing urban high school that's suffering from low attendance rates, increasing violence, and low test scores. We see how a teenage student like Cirri can decide that school just doesn't help much when she's struggling to keep her junkie mother off the streets, her younger brother and sister clothed and fed, and herself from loving a heartbreaking fellow student and small-time drug dealer. We see how a school principal named Heck, after years of fighting the onslaught of drugs, violence, and poverty, can feel burned out, especially when he's losing control of his own daughter, who insists he's out of touch with the black community. We see an idealistic white teacher named Danny trying to raise her students' self-esteem as she strives to make it as a single mother of a 13- year-old boy. Just to round out the tale, Insel throws in a student who, being white in an overwhelmingly black school, prides himself on being the baddest dealer around; a schools superintendent stuck on test scores rather than the personal successes of kids; and an ex-con who teaches shop and gets fired for sexually harassing students (Danny has the hots for him, and when he says that in ``all my other jobs you whistled at the ladies,'' she actually excuses him as being ``out of his element''). Unfortunately, Insel's so busy trying to give every side of this story that she never explores any one side deeply enough to offer true substance. And the amateurish writing, with a melodramatic and unbelievable ending, rings studied and false. Agenda-driven drivel that fails to inspire understanding or compassion.