Alena’s mother died when she was three years old and she’s been raised by her brother ever since. He doesn’t talk much about it, nor does his partner (who isn’t otherwise so reticent). Now fifteen, Alena is curious and wonders what the secret is. But the closer she gets to the truth, the more angry her brother gets. It’s only when she accidentally discovers her mother’s history as a political activist and digs up one of her old friends, that the secrets start to be revealed.
Interspersed with this main story is a subplot about an anonymous bomber who is targeting supermarkets in the area and another one about violence against gay men (and a local coffee shop) in the neighborhood. An opportunistic racist politician also plays a role.The subplots are all ways of illustrating the costs of radical politics in various different guises. They hang loosely – either too obvious or too obscure – to really tie into the story. This leaves them with a feeling of just being filler.
The novel has interesting ideas, but Barter’s delivery is awkward: there’s an unforgivable repetitiveness in the interactions between Alena and her guardians that goes like this: they hide things from her, she gets suspicious and acts on her own, and then gets in trouble for the ramifications of her actions. It takes a surprisingly long time for everyone to come clean and choose openness as a best policy. And it's awfully tiring to hear the same lame excuse about the adults worrying that Alena is too young to handle the truth. The evolution and growth of the characters is rough, uneven, and largely unnecessary.