A passionate first-hand account of one man's efforts to reach inner-city youngsters through the written and spoken word. Sent into the New York City public schools by the Teachers' and Writers' Collaborative, short-story writer O'Connor (Rescue, 1989) chronicles his attempts to engage junior high school students in a tough neighborhood with the craft of writing. O'Connor decides to have his students write monologues about real people on issues that touch their lives. He discovers that ""by putting on the voices of other people, they were dealing with their own worst fears and experiences more honestly"" than they could when writing directly about themselves. One series of monologues is based on the notorious Bensonhurst tragedy, in which Yusuf Hawkins, an African-American teen, was shot and killed after inadvertently entering a hostile white neighborhood. The shooting death of two teens in a Brooklyn high school becomes the scenario for another set of monologues. As they take on the various personae in these scenes, O'Connor's students discover fresh, profound avenues of expression. Almost all of them, it's clear, have been touched by violence and are only too familiar with abuse, drug addiction, alcoholism, mental illness, brutality, and homelessness. O'Connor becomes determined not only to offer his students inspiring writing lessons but to somehow transform their lives as well. He prepares his top drama students for auditions for the specialized LaGuardia High School of Performing Arts, but he realizes the limits of what he can accomplish when none of them is admitted. Though overly long and self-indulgent (O'Connor comes across at times as too much the great white savior), with many gratuitous details, this is a valuable reminder that teaching these days involves a great deal more than pedagogy.