CM . . . . Volume XVII Number 22. . . .February 11, 2011.
The Fifth Rule.
Toronto, ON: HarperCollins, 2011.
263 pp., pbk., $14.99.
Grades 8-12 / Ages 13-17.
Review by Kim Aippersbach.
Reviewed from Uncorrected Proof.
Judge West turns to Reef. "What would you like to say, Mr. Kennedy?"
"Sir, totally by accident or fluke or whatever you wanna call it, I ended up volunteering at the same rehabilitation centre where-" He hesitates, unwilling to use Lezza's name in front of these reporters. "-where the girl I hurt was bein' treated. We became friends."
"Friends?" the judge asks, clearly surprised.
Reff nods. "Neither of us knew who the other one was. We didn't find out until much later. . . . It was a shock to both of us when she found out I was the one-" He looks down at his hands gripping the arms of the chair he sits on, then turns again to the judge. "It was a real shock. I tried to see her to tell her how sorry I was, but her mother- . . . It was her mother who got the restraining order,"
Reef explains. "Not the girl. . . . I just want you to know that I never harassed the girl. The last time I saw her, I was only tryin' to apologize for what I did to her. And I never saw her again after the restraining order was issued."
"Your Honour," interjects Sheppard, his face suddenly brightening, "may I continue with my questioning now?" . . . The attorney does the penguin thing with his hands again. "The recognizance stipulates a specific distance beyond which you are not permitted to approach the young woman, does it not?"
Reef nods. "I think it's two hundred metres." . . . And all at once, Reef realizes the mistake he's made.
"Yet," says Sheppard, "since the restraining order was issued, you've been far closer to her than that, have you not?"
The Fifth Rule is Aker's second book about Reef and Leeza. In The First Stone, Reef is a messed up kid who causes an accident that seriously harms Leeza. He is sent to a group home, and a social worker named Frank Colville helps him get his life on the right track. Frank has five rules for his charges: respect yourself, respect others, be accountable, honour your commitments, and do the right thing. The Fifth Rule begins when Frank Colville dies and Reef returns to Halifax for the funeral. He wishes he could put things right with Leeza, but he doesn't know if she can forgive him, and a restraining order prevents him from speaking to her.
A politician who is using youth offenders as his ticket to election manipulates Reef's words and actions into proof that rehabilitation programs like Frank's are a waste of time and money. Angry at the way Frank's legacy is being threatened and frustrated because all his efforts to do the right thing are backfiring, Reef is tempted to return to the drugs and violence from which Frank rescued him. Meanwhile, Leeza is struggling against her mother's attempts to keep her safe by controlling her life and is trying to figure out a relationship with the father who abandoned her as a child. The intersection of Reef and Leeza's choices as they try to follow the fifth rule gives this compelling novel its heart.
Reef Kennedy is a vibrant, likeable character. In the first scene of the book, he faces down a Russian mafia boss with bluff and bravado, all to protect the street kids he volunteers with. In this dramatic way, readers find out Reef is tough, compassionate, smart and courageous, and readers are firmly on his side. Leeza has courage of a different sort: readers see her still struggling with the scars from the accident and trying to figure out her future. Her relationship with her overprotective mother is complex and realistically drawn. Although her mother is clearly hampering Leeza's ability to get on with her life, Leeza - and, therefore, reader - sympathizes with her motivations and doesn't want to hurt her.
The minor characters all have convincing depth. There can be no stereotypes in a novel about how easy it is to misjudge people. Everyone here, from Leeza's peace-keeping stepfather to Reef's old friends Bigger and Jink, has realistic motivations and an authentic voice. Both Reef and Leeza need the various kinds of support they get from their friends and mentors. A central theme of the novel is that no one can make it on her/his own and that help comes in many different forms. There is a suspenseful and humorous scene where Bigger and Jink kidnap Leeza to get her to stop Reef from doing something stupid. "'You know, there are easier ways to ask a girl for help,' says Leeza." But this is not a novel about easy solutions, and Reef's return to pot and alcohol is as believable as it is heart-wrenching.
Pacing is fast and suspenseful throughout. Reef and Leeza's frustrated love story and Reef's justifiable anger at the manipulative politician Decker are the emotional threads that propel readers through the plot. The climax involves Reef's going to confront Decker while Leeza races to stop him, and Aker uses short chapters alternating between the characters to keep readers on the edges of their seats.
There is no need to have read The First Stone in order to enjoy The Fifth Rule - it stands alone perfectly well-, but anyone who has read the original book will definitely want to read this conclusion to Reef and Leeza's story. This book will appeal to older readers looking for suspenseful realistic fiction. The Fifth Rule would make an excellent novel to study in the classroom, both for its composition and for its themes and issues. There is swearing and a bit of drug use, but no sex.
Kim Aippersbach is a free-lance editor and writer with three children in Vancouver, BC.
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