PG-rated autobiography of a young man's coming-of-age in a black Baltimore ghetto. Journalist Wickham (USA Today, Gannett News Service) was orphaned in 1954 at the age of eight when his father shot his wife to death before turning the gun on himself. That grim scenario sounds like the perfect beginning for a story about a young man's descent into crime, pimping, and drug dealing, but Wickham sidestepped all those things. While he was certainly traumatized by the deaths of his parents, the story of his childhood and adolescence is squeaky-clean; it sometimes reads like a black American Graffiti. Wickham looks back with tender hindsight, little anger, and a great deal of self-knowledge, emerging from the shadow of his early misfortune as a fairly typical kid going through fairly typical teenage stuff: He agonizes endlessly about how to kiss his first girlfriend; he tries out for sports teams; he just says no to drugs and alcohol. A single trip to the police station for extorting quarters from fellow students convinces him crime is a losing proposition, and he soon becomes a caddie at Woodholme, a Jewish country club that for a time provides him with an emotional center, money, and a measure of self-esteem. Throughout, he is helped along by older black (and white) folks who try to steer him on the right path. Indeed, Woodholme constitutes a good argument for the effectiveness of the black community's ``extended family,'' in which neighbors and teachers assume the role of absent parents. The book ends with the 17-year-old Wickham joining the Air Force after fathering an illegitimate daughter. He vows to earn his GED and to support his child and his future wife, and you don't doubt that he will. Ultimately inspiring and refreshing precisely because of the absence of the guns/dope/sex sensationalism we've come to expect from such books.