Karina has trouble getting good grades at school. She does well on tests, but she never gets her homework done. But then if your stepfather was beating you and your siblings brutally as Karina's is, you'd have trouble working at home too! In the unfolding story, Karina and her family of Haitian immigrants have to find a way out of their mess (and find a way that avoids making things worse - a problem since so much depends upon keeping things entirely in the family).
As with almost all stories of abusive families, I find it hard to understand how the characters can so boldly avoid help from outsiders. I do get that it happens but the blatant nature of Karina's refusals to get help feel designed more to promote the tragic ending than to create a realistic story. It is hard to see the point of a story like this (a complaint I have made in other reviews I have written about abusive situations). Yes, the life she is living is horrible, but without showing how she pulls herself out of it, what we are left with is a voyeuristic novel about child abuse. That said, it's well-written and interesting, but I do recommend having a strong stomach because of the narrative's intensity.