A riveting departure from the Danish author whose novel Smilla's Sense of Snow was last year's surprising international bestseller. The narrator is a young man named Peter who recounts how he survived growing up in Danish orphanages and reform schools. Written in short blocks of concentrated text, the narrative skips around from memories of his childhood to meditations on the philosophy and history of time. Peter and his fellow ``borderliners''--those children who are in danger of being institutionalized for being hopelessly uncooperative with the reformist educational system--learn how to cope with the strict management of their every moment by trying to create time and space for themselves. At 14, after years of unhappily drifting through the institutional system, Peter and several other borderliners are given one last chance when they are transferred to an exclusive private school where, unknown to them, they have been sent in order to be guinea pigs in a secret government experiment where troubled students are integrated with regular, privileged students. At this Dickensian academy he befriends and tries to protect a very damaged psychotic boy and a recently orphaned girl, and together they conduct ``experiments'' in mentally and physically escaping the spacial and psychological constraints of the rigid school. They try ``escaping'' by doing everything from meditating on corporal punishment to breaking into the steam tunnels below the school. Hoeg's cool description of everyday degradation is powerfully spare and gives the impression that the author knows all too well his painful subject. In fact, this novel is so skillfully wrought that it reads like a survivor's memoir interweaved with an intriguing meditation on the meaning of time and how one views it under differing levels of positive and negative stress. While not the thriller of last year, Hoeg has delivered a page-turner of a quite different stripe. A brave, imaginative novel.