No child should have to witness a brutal act against his father, but thirteen-year-old Noah Cope does. Noah's father, a Tory loyalist, dies as a result of being tarred and feathered by Whigs who oppose British rule in the American colonies. Noah is brutally beaten too. After his family flees to Boston, he vows to do his part to fight the rebel Whigs. Too young to join the British army, Noah is hired on as a spy. His cover is a job at a local tavern where rebel leaders such as John Adams, John Hancock, and Paul Revere gather to discuss politics. Fiercely determined to remain loyal to the British like his late father, Noah nevertheless begins to see both sides of the situation leading up to the American Revolution.
While working at the tavern, Noah is befriended by a free Black teen named Jolla. Jolla constantly challenges Noah to think for himself rather than just blindly accepting the opinions of others. Neither of the boys are very sure whether the rebels or loyalists are in the right. Both sides keep Black people enslaved, and both sides commit murder. Through it all, Noah must figure out how to protect his family, how to survive, and where his loyalties should lie.
I was thrilled to discover that Avi had written another book despite being in his eighties. One of his previous works, The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, has long been a favorite of mine. Loyalty, however, while thought-provoking, falls short of some of Avi's previous works. The novel seems to have been written as a history lesson in story form. Avi showcases the American Revolution from an unbiased point of view, including a timely look at how Black people were treated at the time. His key points are important: War is hell, both sides committed atrocious acts, and people must learn to think for themselves. The book itself, while great as a history lesson, falls a bit flat as a story, however.
Clarion Books categorizes Loyalty as children's fiction, but I daresay it is not. Although the protagonist is a young teen, he sees horrific things no boy should have to see. Avi is not shy in describing men writhing in agony, brains spilling out, surgeons sawing off limbs, young characters being expected to carry amputated body parts outside to be disposed of while trying not to slip in pools of blood on the floor, the stench of an impromptu clinic, and more. As a parent of older elementary school children myself, I wouldn't want them to read this fodder for nightmares until they are young adults or teens at least. Clarion Books and Avi should categorize Loyalty as young adult fiction or tone down the gratuitous, bloody descriptions considerably. The ending was ambiguous and somewhat unsatisfying as well. As it is, I can only give Loyalty a 2.5 star rating.
A complimentary copy of this book was provided by Clarion Books through NetGalley. The opinions I have expressed are my own.