Ninth-grader Kevin is used to being the new kid; life as an ""Army brat"" has entailed plenty of moves. But never before has he been the object of hatred: he's roughed up by classmates, verbally abused by a fierce girl named Charley, and threatened by her menacing older cousin Duane. The source of the hostility turns out to be the government's acquisition, 50 years ago, of farmland now called the Proving Ground--a compound of military living quarters and ammunition testing fields: Charley can't forgive anyone for occupying the site of her ancestral home. However, she switches loyalties during a failed attempt by out-of-control Duane to cast false aspersions on the safety at the Proving Ground. The present-day civilians are painted, in belligerent tones, as a sniggering, faceless collective, willing to live off the military payroll while harboring old resentments. Alphin's reluctance to point fingers--the villain is a vague, long-ago bureaucracy--is in some ways admirable, but ultimately unrewarding: the heat of the battle is too abstract and too distant to justify either Charley's venom or Kevin's instant fear that ""his side"" must, somehow, be in the wrong.