Shortly after the Columbine tragedy, California author Meredith Maran decided to spend a year at Berkeley High School because she saw it as a microcosm of all that's right and wrong with American education. It's a remarkably diverse public high school, both ethnically and economically. And it's home to an energetic community of educators, who allowed Maran to follow three seniors from September to June.
The result, "Class Dismissed" (301 pages. St. Martin's Press. $23.95), is a moving and, at times, heartbreaking, account of three kids from very different backgrounds. Jordan Etra is a middle-class white kid who dreams of attending an East Coast college. Keith Stephens, who is black, represents the third generation in his family to attend Berkeley High and the first to have a shot at college. Autumn Morris looks after her two younger brothers while her mother is at work. It's a tumultuous year for all three. Jordan struggles to come to terms with his father's death. Keith has a run-in with the law that threatens to derail all his plans. And Autumn, whose persistence is inspiring, gets a coveted thick envelope from that other institution of learning in Berkeley. Maran tells their stories with great sensitivity. You can't help rooting for them--and wishing for a sequel with a happy ending.