Josh Milton is a sixteen-year-old white British teenager. Two years before the story starts Josh’s father was killed in a suicide bombing of a train, while he was going to work. This unremittingly dark novel chronicles the grief of Josh and his mother and also the attempt to radicalise Josh made by a group of white supremacists called the White Lions. Josh’s unresolved anger about the death of his father renders him vulnerable to such an approach. Racists of course believe that whoever planted the bomb on the train was some kind of alien.
The book pulls no punches whatsoever. Parents and teachers should be warned. During the process of Josh’s attempted radicalisation, racist arguments are presented. Because the author wishes to underline Josh’s vulnerability at this stage, these pernicious arguments are not challenged, indeed not even questioned until much later in the book. The process of radicalisation also includes an excerpt of gratuitous violence. Josh also has an academic profile, being talented in the field of science. As a result his most effective relationship at school is with the science teacher, Mr Walters. As the novel progresses however Josh will learn that the extracurricular activities of Mr Walters will be revealed as something of a surprise.
Palmer’s book is brave and necessary to a remarkable degree, especially praiseworthy since it is his debut novel. The book must be read and understood by teenagers. For readers at the younger end of the age group adult supervision of the reading may be a prudent measure.