Based on actual events from 1989 in International Falls, Minnesota, Riot tells the story of sixth-grader Bryan, whose family becomes stressed when nonunion labor "rats" are hired by the local paper mill, leaving his father, a union worker, angry and out of a job. Tension erupts into daily fights at school and nightly acts of vandalism with no solution in sight. Already torn between his parents' opposing viewpoints on how to handle the escalating situation, Bryan's growing feelings for the daughter of a nonunion worker only complicate matters.
Bryan tries to understand the turmoil affecting his home and his town, but it is becomes harder and harder to separate his friends from his enemies. And when he witnesses a violent act that implicates his father, he must wrestle with family loyalty and telling the truth.