Terry Trueman’s book Inside Out is short, but packs quite a punch. It's a fast read, but you may also want (or even need) to take breaks to catch your breath and let the story sink in. It details events over the course of only one day, when the teenage main character, Zach, finds himself in a coffee shop being held up by two other teenage boys. The holdup escalates into a hostage situation, and over the course of this single evening gone horribly wrong, we get a story with complex, sometimes unexpected, layers of desperation, friendship, loss, and above all compassion.
This book maintains a limited, first-person point of view from the perspective of Zach. The thing to note is Zach suffers from schizophrenia, and struggles to keep his disorder in check as the tragic events of the story stretch into night and Zach is kept from his next dose of medication. The point of view is sometimes disconcerting with interruptions due to Zach’s disorder, often in the form of two negative-voices, Dirtbag and Rat. It is also at times confusing as Zach struggles to make sense of what is and isn’t real.
The amazing thing is Trueman manages to pull off this risky point of view, because at all times the prose feels authentic and right, and connects us to the experiences of Zach. And through Zach’s perception of the world, we’re not only given insights into the suffering of the mentally ill, but profound insights into truths of human nature. Through Zach and the other characters in this story, we recognize ourselves; our own confusion and struggles to understand a world that may not always make sense; our own desperation to act in the face of suffering; our own struggles with the seemingly malleable definitions of right and wrong.
By the end of the story, all the characters feel human, not like two-dimensional caricatures representing external issues. We feel a powerful emotional connection for characters we may have never thought we’d have anything in common with, or who we probably assumed didn’t deserve our understanding. The book, like many in today’s market, seems to be consciously tackling issues in our society like mental illness and the pressures of economic strain. But through the real, non-sensationalized handling of a mentally ill protagonist, as well as the criminal elements of the story, we connect with something deeper than the plot and the surface issues brought to attention through this book.
Inside Out does what I believe all good literature manages to do: it becomes about more than just the issues or subject matter involved. This book is about people. It’s about us all. Trueman connects us with the truths of humanity, both good and bad, in both clarity and confusion. He connects us to ourselves and each other, and allows us to realize that even those on the outer most fringes of society, even in the midst of so much wrong, can be heroes in their own way, capable of extraordinary acts of love, and worthy of our compassion, understanding, and forgiveness during times when they may seem like the hardest things to give.