After the death of a dear neighbor, a lonely and vulnerable new girl at a private school prepares to risk everything to join the Secret Circle, a group of in-crowd girls who perform pranks as initiation. Jamie, newly enrolled in St. Agnes's, is mourning the death of Pearlie Wu Graves, who let the girl and her brother, Gus, help with her honey stand while their own mother established a catering business. Pearlie Wu dies suddenly of blood poisoning, and Jamie is even lonelier than before. The girls at school who call themselves the Secret Circle invite Jamie to join, and she is called upon to betray Pearlie Wu's widowed husband, Mr. Graves. Schenker doesn't shy away from the real consequences of Jamie's actions; although Jamie isn't caught, she drops out of the Secret Circle, and finds herself alone once more. The story, though not a new one, is told with delicacy and genuine adherence to the truth. The steps that Jamie, a strong, likable girl who patiently cares for her fearful younger brother, takes down the path to trouble are thoroughly believable. The adults--with the exception of Mr. Graves--are not as credible; they are either incompetent or self-involved, but don't mar this often gripping study of cliques and outsiders.