The wind that blows through the corner of West Africa where Joseph goes to the government school is wayward, bringing instant status to the students, making some of them dissatisfied with the dilapidated dormitories. With mounting anxiety, Joseph sees his cousin Gorba and another senior plot to burn down the worst buildings; frightened at the prospect of bush revenge, he nevertheless tries to warn Mr. Jennings, the most sympathetic master. But the conspiracy succeeds, and Joseph is spotted by Mr. Jennings trying to protect Gorba, who escapes unrecognized. The ensuing investigation impales Joseph between principle and self-interest, with local complications; if he names the ringleaders, he'll be disloyal to Gorba's father, who paid for most of his schooling; if he doesn't, he'll forfeit school and Mr. Jennings' confidence, be forced (at sixteen) to do menial work and marry the girl he likes but doesn't want to be lied to. Sharp vignettes of Joseph and his mother, who is vague about everything except report cards; of Joseph and the father he visits formally; of Joseph and the African administrators who are more knowing than American Mr. Jennings -- all contribute to a finely shaded simulacrum of African life. In the Peace Corps, the author taught at a similar school; he doesn't sentimentalize Joseph or his dilemma, does -- after a slow start -- give him a very engaging reality.