De Grazia's powerful debut fearlessly explores racism, adolescent rage and terrifyingly violent youth movements; its adolescent hero is a skinhead, getting into trouble in Chicago's late '80s scene. Intense, unsparing and fueled by a desperate energy, this graphically violent novel will not be to every taste, but it rings true with poignant clarity. Alex Verdi, a daydreaming 17-year-old, leaves home--an Illinois farmhouse--when his parents are busted for selling marijuana, and hitches a ride to the Windy City. There, he lives at the Y and gets a job in an electroplating plant, where he earns the nickname ""Degreaser."" He's also mugged and beaten by hoods, so when he joins a group of multiracial ""anti-Nazi"" skinheads, it's partly for protection, partly for a sense of belonging. Strongman leader Timmy Penn quickly becomes Alex's surrogate big brother and role model, but Alex also falls under the spell of a ""straightedge"" skinhead girl, Marie. Donning the group's image, he manages to get along bruisingly, until a violent encounter with a rival, ""white power"" skinhead faction, followed by a fight in a nightclub, finds Alex and Tim facing serious police charges. After family intervention, the pair are sent to the army reserves in Fort Benning instead of prison. Once the two youths are discharged, their paths split: Tim goes off to become a drug dealer and Alex tries to clean up his act by moving to Evanstown, a tony suburb--but even there, his ugly past catches up with him. Rights sold in Canada and France; film rights to Frederick Levy Productions. (Apr.) FYI: Written as De Grazia's M.A. thesis, American Skin was rejected by numerous U.S. publishers. Alerted to the success of working-class fiction in England, De Grazia sent his manuscript to Jonathan Cape in London, which published the novel in 1998.