Of Things Not Seen.
Toronto: Stoddart, 1995. 197pp, paper, $5.99.
ISBN 0-7736-7435-7. CIP.
Grades 6 - 10 / Ages 11 - 15.
Review by Dave Jenkinson.
In his first young-adult novel, Aker, a Middleton, Nova Scotia,
high-school teacher, deals powerfully with the theme of physical abuse.
Ben Corbett, sixteen, has lived with being beaten and seeing his mother
battered ever since Jim Rankin (six feet, four inches tall) became his
stepfather seven years ago. To protect each other, mother and son, have
both tried fruitlessly to mollify Rankin by constantly monitoring and
modifying their behaviours in accordance with his wishes and demands, but
Rankin's rages, often alcohol-fuelled, are unpredictable and always
The book's title, rooted in Hebrews 11:1, is part of Ben's mother's
belief that "things will get better soon" and they just have to have
faith, "the conviction of things not seen," that Rankin will change for
A year and a half earlier, the family's fifth move in five years
brought them to Brookdale, a small community in Nova Scotia's Annapolis
Valley, where Rankin works in a plastics factory and Ben's mother is a
cashier. Though Ben has learned that playing the role of social isolate
helps keep the family's secret hidden, in Brookdale he allows two people
-- his girlfriend Ann and octogenarian neighbour Sadie Jackson -- to see
into his dark world. And a third person, Mark Lewis, Ben's grade-eleven
English teacher, unknowingly blunders into that darkness and sets
in motion a chain of events that ends the abuse.
Just as Ben is receiving a particularly brutal "tuning up" from
Rankin, Ann, Mr. Lewis, and Ben's mother independently conclude that the
police must be called, and the book's ending finds Ben and his mother in
a shelter for battered families.
Aker is particularly strong at characterization, and he renders the
dynamics which allow abuse to continue within a family with great
credidbility. Lest readers leave the book stereotyping abusers as just
being blue-collar drunks or step-parents, Aker includes another abuse
scenario that involves an upper-middle-class father and son.
Dave Jenkinson teaches courses in children's and young-adult literature
in the Faculty of Education, University of Manitoba.
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