In a well-knit but predictable first novel, Eric (15) is snared by a manipulative classmate and struggles to break free. Four months after transferring to Emerson High, Many Benbow has gathered a band of sycophants, eager to follow his lead in verbally harassing some hapless victim or playing an escalating series of pranks. Though Eric finds being with the ""Benbow Boys"" less and less entertaining, Marty plays him like a fish on a line, at last persuading him to help steal a load of musical instruments from the band room. Fortunately, Johnson doesn't drag in a plethora of topical issues; there's no violence, substance abuse, or (beyond Marty's clear contempt for everyone) psychological disorder, though Eric does meet a homeless man (portrayed as a victim of his own choices). In traditional YA-lit fashion, all teachers arc hateful or laughable and parents have no idea what's going on. In the end, Eric's job, plus new girlfriend, pumps up his self-esteem; he turns himself in (and receives minor punishment) after Marty is caught by police. Not much danger here, but a fair amount of dramatic tension and soul-searching.