November 28, 2011

The Fifth Rule

by Don Aker
HarperTrophy Canada
260 pp.

As Don Aker reveals in his Author's Note in The Fifth Rule, he felt obliged (reluctantly) to write a sequel to The First Stone (HarperTrophy Canada, 2003) by the many readers anxious to learn the fates of characters Reef and Leeza. Having just completed The First Stone, I can only imagine their anticipation after eight years of waiting; my impatience was assuaged expediently in just a few hours.

Two years have passed since Reef, the young offender from The First Stone, was judged guilty in the tragic accident that almost killed a young woman in Halifax.  Having completed the terms of his sentence (living in the North Hills Group Home run by Frank Colville, volunteering at a rehabilitation centre, and making school presentations about his actions and their consequences), Reef is living in Calgary, working in construction and helping out with street youth.  He's also respecting the restraining order keeping him away from Leeza (an order secured by her mother), although she continues to pervade his thoughts daily.

In Halifax, Leeza has completed her rehabilitation, walking with minimal pain, although her scars keep the memories of her devastating accident and her time with Reef.  And, if the scars weren't enough, she has her controlling mother forever reminding her about Reef's criminality and her naiveté. Luckily, she is busy attending the University of Dalhousie, and still keeping in touch with her old rehab roomie, Brett, and nurse Casey, although not busy enough to keep Reef and his perceived deception from her thoughts.

When Frank Colville is killed by a young offender gone joyriding, Reef returns, delivering an emotional eulogy to Frank.  Reef reveals the nature of his relationship with Frank (previously confidential as Reef was a minor) and the positive impact Frank had on his life and on all those fortunate to be sent to North Hills Group Home.  Disastrously, a politically ambitious Roland Decker twists Reef's story and words to support his hardline platform against young offenders.

Through a series of missed opportunities, bad timing and misunderstandings, Reef verges on undoing all the good Frank had helped him achieve, convinced he has no hope with Leeza and that he has brought about the ruin of Frank's legacy, North Hills.  Presented with her own share of confounding and erroneous information, Leeza is attempting to sort out her feelings for Reef and for her biological father who reappears surreptitiously after many years.

By juxtaposing Reef's story (which seems to be spiraling into despair) with Leeza's (which is based on misconceptions and presumptions), Don Aker entices the reader along, anticipating the circumstances by which the two will meet up again and the nature of that reunion (spoiler!: doesn't happen until page 237).  The convergence of their story lines and their lives provides a captivating and convincing answer to the question: what happened to Reef and Leeza? 

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