The time is 1962 (which you're unlikely to forget, since Hogan keeps reminding you), and the place is John Muir High School in Los Angeles: white, Protestant, solidly middle-class, made up of a student body predictably broken down into ""jocks"" and ""pukes,"" ""whores"" and ""good girls."" And each year a charismatic, individualistic English teacher named P. J. Cooper picks 36 seniors to go out into the Arizona desert with him for a week during spring vacation; only the most incompatible are invited, the ones most likely to interact least predictably--a gesture to P.J.'s amused faith in ""The Great Equalizer."" So Stretch Latham, a basketball star worried about his sexual endowments, is going, and so is Ann Hosack, a ""whore."" Margaret Ball, ugly but spiritually on the mark, is along--as is Mary Allbright, always afraid she's pregnant. And there's Deeter Moss too: quiet, knowledgeable, the ultimate ""puke""--chosen by P.J. as the one most likely to gain the most experience. So--36 high-school seniors in the desert in 1962 with only five chaperones. . . which doesn't add up to sin and sex. What it does add up to: fantasies and fears of sex; boasts and worries about Trojans and Tampax, jockey shorts and panty-girdles; shaving-cream fights and outdoor lavatories. And Hogan, with remarkable skill, gets the ceremonial and American qualities of all this down perfectly, exhilaratingly. True, the trip's conclusion--a tragedy that involves more growing-up than anyone bargained for--is foreshadowed a little strongly; and sentiment begins to snowball near the end of the book. But there's an innocence of time and culture laid out here that is sweet and true: the trip is irresistible, as good as American Graffiti, and maybe--for its sculpted, more than nostalgic shape--even better.