FICTION

The Inside Battle

Yellow Jacket. Mar. 2020. 320p. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781499809176.
COPY ISBN
Gr 5-8–Nathan Mercer has returned from a fifth combat tour with the marines, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and struggling to readjust to life with his son, 13-year-old Rebel, and Aunt Birdie. Both Rebel and Birdie recognize Nathan’s volatile behavior, but neither realizes that he has been radicalized by white supremacist groups online. Rebel has trouble regulating his own stress and anger. When the teen commits a racist act that gets him expelled from school, Nathan takes them both to Oklahoma to join a white nationalist militia. Through Rebel’s first-person narration, Sumrow examines the boy’s anxiety—about his father’s well-being, his fear of guns, the nerdiness that his father detests—and how those issues contribute to Rebel’s troubled complicity in Nathan’s extremism. The limited perspective allows glimpses into the radicalization process without delving too deeply into the group’s violent psychology, a mostly successful balance for middle grade readers. Slipping away from militia training, Rebel discovers some unlikely neighbors for the isolated extremist camp: Calliope, an adolescent beekeeper, and her grandfather Josiah, the pastor at an African American church. Sumrow falls into some tired tropes with these black characters; they are kindly, wise, and unfailingly forgiving, and they appear primarily to assist Rebel’s evolution away from the domestic terrorists his father has joined. Simplistic plotting in the second half of the book may frustrate some readers, but the narrative’s climax acknowledges the damaging effects of white nationalist ideology.
VERDICT Amid missteps, Sumrow illustrates the threat of white supremacy and the lamentable treatment of veterans with PTSD.

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