Parents' Guide to

Devils Within

By Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 13+

Painful, powerful story about rejecting white supremacy.

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S.F. Henson's novel is an important, if heartbreaking, story of what it's like to grow up in the world of white supremacy -- and then desperately try to climb out of it. Devils Within can be difficult to read, because the protagonist, Nate, shares all of the corrosive ideology he was raised believing. Despite being an intimidating teen -- 6-foot-2, muscular -- he's very fragile and emotionally vulnerable after being forced to kill his father, and he's constantly worrying for his safety. His relationship with his only living relative -- his uncle Dell (who was also once a neo-Nazi but now has a serious Asian girlfriend, Bev) -- is strained, and the only seemingly uncomplicated friendship is a new one initiated by an African American classmate, Brandon. At first, Nate is hesitant about befriending Brandon, never having had a friend who wasn't white, but their friendship is the one positive aspect of Nate's life, so naturally Nate can't tell Brandon about his lifelong connection to a white supremacist group.

Henson, who grew up in the Deep South, has been vocal about the fact that most white teens don't grow up around the sort of extreme and overt racism she portrays in the book. But she does believe many white readers will relate to Nate and Brandon's classmates, who don't automatically dismiss or fight against the messages of white power and supremacy the Fort plasters around town. Readers will recognize the classmates and teammates who are fine playing basketball with Brandon but wouldn't want to eat at his house, who could never date anyone who isn't white, or who blame nonwhites, immigrants, etc., for bringing down their community or the country as a whole. Right now, it's important to acknowledge white supremacy in all its forms, from the extreme to the subtle, and Henson does a powerful job exposing the various ways white power manifests itself.

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