Latin instructor Jerome Washington is a man out of place. The lone African-American teacher at the Chelsea School, an elite all-boys boarding school in Connecticut, he has spent nearly two decades trying not to appear too racial. So he is unnerved when Rashid Bryson, a promising black inner-city student who is new to the school, seeks Washington as a potential ally against Chelsea's citadel of white privilege. Preferring not to align himself with Bryson, Washington rejects the boy's friendship. Surprised and dismayed by Washington's response, Bryson turns instead to Jana Hansen, a middle-aged white divorcée who is also new to the school -- and who has her own reasons for becoming involved in the lives of both Bryson and Washington.
Southgate makes her debut as a writer to watch in this compelling, provocative tale of how race and class ensnare Hansen, Washington, and Bryson as they journey toward an inevitable and ultimately tragic confrontation.