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Working the same territory--adolescence--he did in Someplace Safe (1984), Herriges has written a Blackboard Jungle with a Latin beat. His second novel is set in and around the Freddie Prinze High School, in Chicago's Puerto Rican ghetto. Narrator/protagonist is 29-year-old Johnny Spector, English teacher, wise guy, and novelist with a groupie following. Wife Shelly has just divorced him; for her, Johnny is a perpetual adolescent, while for the kids he is Mister Cool, smoking joints, etc. Johnny sees himself both as zoo-keeper and White Knight, charging into the ghetto on errands of mercy: standing bail for Tony, who's spray-painted an El car; helping Wanda, a battered daughter, elope; even, incredibly, participating in street-comer peace talks between rival gangs, and getting cut for his pains. Simultaneously (these feckless PRs!), he's rolling his eyes at the reader: ""Instead of appreciating my last few minutes, I'll be worried about some little gangster getting shot, some little coed throwing her life away. Fuck it, I thought. Bwana needs a rest."" Bwana gets mighty aroused, though, by Marlyn, a beautiful 18-year-old senior with whom Johnny starts an affair, though it's never clear whether he loves her (he just hates to get serious). But he does encourage her to think of college and resist her father's plans for an arranged marriage. Surprisingly, their liaison goes undiscovered by the Principal, who tries to have Johnny transferred for other infractions, but the hearing is cut short by all-out gang warfare that leaves one student dead. The novel ends where it should have begun, with the contest between Johnny and Marlyn's father for her body and soul unresolved. What sinks this novel is the author's view of his protagonist (a similar problem bedeviled Someplace Safe): while Herriges loves Johnny, most readers will find him a reprehensible jerk (and his snide put-downs of Puerto Rican culture offensive).

Pub Date: April 21st, 1986
Publisher: Morrow