When Amir turns up in the fifth grade at Dunbar, in the Bronx, he's different from other kids: quiet, self-possessed, imperturbable: ""Why didn't he just run home and stay in the house the way all kids do when they first come to a new school or move to a new neighborhood?"" narrator Doris wonders. And ""why didn't he try to act like the other boys if he was going to hang around with them""? What excitable Doris learns as Amir makes his steadying presence increasingly felt on 163rd Street makes for an unusually alive, unforced story of black inner-city life. First lanky Sherman, the playground star, doesn't turn up for the big basketball game with the sixth grade--and Amir persuades Big Russell (""Big Hocks behind his back"") to call the shots and let scatty little Yellow Bird play. When the fifth graders win, it's the beginning of the making of both of them. Sherman, meanwhile, is hiding out--because, as he finally confides to Doris, he's been taken away from his grandmother and sent to a foster home. Doris risks riling her easily-riled mother to take food to him and also tells Amir, who's all for convincing Sherman to give the foster home a try: how else will he keep in touch with his brothers and sisters and get them all together again? And now it emerges that Amir's adaptability stems from his being a veteran foster child; besides--quietly, without elaboration--""Reform school is worse."" As an inducement, he proposes to help Sherman's grandmother out--and gets the very reluctant Doris involved too. Her own big crossover isn't directly Amir's doing (the book is not that contrived): her father is temporarily laid off; her mother wants Doffs to stay with an aunt, while baby Gerald is deposited elsewhere, so she can go to work; and Doris, mindful of Amir and Sherman, not only balks but insists on taking the responsibility for Gerald so the family can stay together. But that small climax (which, among other things, helps her understand her mother's crankiness) is only one of many as the kids settle down and, without losing their sense of fun, start shaping up Finally, inevitably, Amir leaves for still another domicile; but, as he writes to Doris, as long as they think about each other, ""we not really separated."" Told in a black idiom and special to the circumstances, this puts universal feelings in a fresh perspective--quite apart from its implicit inducement to cope and conquer.