November 27, 2011

The First Stone

by Don Aker
HarperTrophy Canada
978-0-00639-286-6
289 pp.
Ages 14+
2003
Note Bene: Published before I was even a teacher-librarian (just a teacher), The First Stone won both the 2004 OLA's White Pine Award and the Ann Connor Brimer Award.  I'm reviewing it here as it is the prequel to Don Aker's The Fifth Rule, a current White Pine nominee.  I will post my review of The Fifth Rule tomorrow.
Reef, 17, and friends, Jinks and Bigger, are not the most likeable fellows in Halifax, unless you like guys who spew profanities as easily as breathing, who think nothing of vandalizing property, and who think little beyond themselves.  Reef, a foster child since his grandmother died eight years earlier of cancer (his abusive drunkard of a grandfather died earlier), goes by his gut instincts.  Unfortunately, he makes a lot of poor choices, one which causes a horrific crash and leaves a teen broken and in a coma.

Sentenced to the North Hills Group Home, a set-up created by ex-con Frank Colville, to volunteer hours at a rehab centre, and ultimately to present talks to schools about his experiences, Reef isn't pleased; neither are many citizens, including the victim's mother, Diane Morrison, who are convinced he got away with almost murdering her daughter.  Playing the tough-guy, Reef begrudgingly does what is required of him, including following Frank Colville's rules and repairing a greenhouse on his own, but Reef continues to share very little of himself.  That is, until he begins his volunteering at the Halifax Rehabilitation Centre, where his usefulness is appreciated by staff and patients on the muscoloskeletal floor. 

He especially makes a connection with Leeza , a young woman dealing with multiple fractures and injuries which have her in constant pain.  Through their commonality in dealing with the death of a loved one, Reef and Leeza become closer, each having a positive impact on the other: Leeza making more of an effort in her rehab, and Reef finding it easier to respect himself and do the right thing.  

Frank Coville's rules (respect yourself; respect others; honor your commitments; be accountable; and do the right thing) become mantras that poke their way into Reef's consciousness, steering him to ensure he doesn't interact with his victim, to help direct Jinks and Bigger into making better choices, and to recognizing his own worth.  Meanwhile, Leeza is learning to deal with her anger, fear and pain, while accepting the attraction she feels for Reef.

Regardless of how unappealing Reef and his friends are, courtesy of Don Aker's expressive writing, the reader is compelled to read to the end, sure that Reef is one of those characters that can and will redeem himself, somehow.   Leeza can be a less sympathetic character, primarily because of her interactions with her controlling mom, but Leeza demonstrates her resiliency, grabbing the support of her readers.  Even the ending (spoiler alert!: Reef and Leeza do not become romantically involved here) prepares the reader to accept that time is needed for characters and circumstances to resolve themselves before their story truly ends. And so, now comes Don Aker's reluctant sequel, The Fifth Rule.

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