This is a really powerful and emotional story about some very troubled teenagers. Main character, Lindsey Sloan, is the "gifted coordinator" at Randolph-Lowen High School. She specializes in teaching the gifted and especially bright students in their small Alabama county, and surrounding counties. She's a trusted and favoured teacher and always sees the best in her students. Until Detective Jace Nolan arrives.
Jace has been sent to investigate a series of three fires that were set to black churches in the area. His team "up north" has put together a profile of the perpetrators, which they believe to be young, white, particularly intelligent males, since they've left no trace of their crimes. Jace is convinced that the culprits are among Lindsey's students, and while the fires have stopped, he believes it's only a matter of time before the individuals strike again, seeking the adrenaline high the fires gave them.
Lindsey absolutely refuses to believe that any of her students could be involved in these crimes. Even after her students make a big deal about her and the detective spending time together, and then she finds a rattlesnake in her home. Jace deduces that the very act proves that the ones who started the fires are in her class, and they think that because she's been seen with him, they think she knows something and is ratting them out to the police. Lindsey still won't believe it, although she's convinced the rattler didn't just crawl into her laundry hamper, despite what her neighbours have to say. But when someone locks her in the ticket booth at the football game and sets the booth on fire (from which Jace rescues her), she can't help but think Jace may be right, even if she can't fathom any of her students wanting to harm her.
In the meantime, the case is developing into an epidemic of suicides, starting with a young girl. One of Lindsey's students, Andrea Moore was quiet and sweet and kept to herself, and Lindsey was probably the last person she spoke to before taking her own life. When they find out that she had a history of depression and cutting, Lindsey and one of the school counselors, Shannon, are beside themselves wondering why they hadn't known and how they could have helped her. It's later on discovered that someone set up a fake profile for Andrea on a social networking site, making obscene posts supposedly written by Andrea about her sexual acts. This prompted cruel rumours and e-mails which eventually drove Andrea to her fate. The following days are hard on everyone, students and staff alike, and the counselors fear that the attention will bring about a copycat suicide - some kid thinking that they'd like the same attention and love Andrea's getting postmortem. When Lindsey discovers the next suicide victim a week later, they believe their fears have come true. Tim Harrison is the last person Lindsey would have thought would commit suicide, and nobody can figure out why, until Jace does some investigating and finds out that Tim, too, was the victim of cruel rumours and vicious e-mails in the days leading up to his death. Rumours that he was gay, which he was, but nobody knew.
Things start to spiral when the school principal is found dead, supposedly suicide, in Shannon's house. The coroner soon discovers that it was murder, however. Deciding that things have gotten way out of hand, and having been scared thinking it was her friend who was dead, Lindsey concedes that it's possible one of her students might be involved, and Shannon finally goes to the police with the hunch she's had since Jace first started the investigation.
The story climaxes with a very intense and eerily real Columbine situation, where 3 students from the gifted program come to school early bearing guns and explosives and taking Lindsey hostage, killing administration staff, first response officers, and one other student before Jace and the police force take down 2 of them and rescue Lindsey. These teens were responsible for starting the rumours about the other two, and while they hadn't made them commit suicide, it was the intended goal. Shannon had been their intended victim, but they ended up having to kill the principal when he showed up at her house and surprised them. They had had a whole list of victims, mostly in Lindsey's program, who they had intended to kill in the shooting, but got off schedule, and things ended the way they did.
Of course, there's a passionate love story going on between Jace and Lindsey, which at times feels a bit corny, but has a sweet enough ending. :)