Award-wining writer Don Aker’s The First Stone tells the story of Reef, an embittered and troubled young man who, in a mindless rage, hurls a rock from an overpass and injures Leeza, who is in mourning for an older sister. The two teenagers unexpectedly come together to begin the slow process of healing. The First Stone was first published in 2003 by HarperTrophy Canada. It won the Ontario Library Association’s White Pine Award and Atlantic Canada’s Ann Connor Brimer Award in 2004. It was also one of five young adult novels selected for CBC Radio’s “Young Canada Reads” series in 2006.
Author and Background
Don Aker was born on 21 October 1955, in Windsor, Nova Scotia, and grew up in rural Hants County. He earned an arts degree (1976), an education degree (1977) and a master’s in education (1991) at Acadia University. He is the father of two daughters. A schoolteacher for 33 years before retiring, Aker became a writer after attending a writers’ workshop in Massachusetts in the summer of 1988. His first short story, “The Invitation,” was included in three anthologies. He later received a $10,000 grant from Telefilm Canada to develop it into a screenplay. His first book, Of Things Not Seen, was published in 1995. He has written more than 20 books, including educational texts and materials. He also conducts professional development workshops for educators of students in grades 5–12.
“Every piece of fiction I’ve ever written — whether novel or short story — has grown out of something that has bothered me, kept me awake at night, wouldn’t leave me alone,” he once wrote. He was inspired to compose The First Stone when the daughter of a friend was killed when her car was struck by another driven by a youth fleeing the police, a reckless act that ended a life and altered many others.
Chad Kennedy, known as Reef because he once accidentally inhaled a lit reefer (marijuana cigarette), has had a rough childhood in Nova Scotia. He has never known his father and his deaf mother was unable to care for him. He is raised in poverty by maternal grandparents. His resentful grandfather is a bitter, violent alcoholic who abuses both his wife and the unwanted boy. The grandmother is the only person who has ever shown the boy love. One of her kindnesses is to present young Chad with a smooth-edged “sick stone,” which she encourages him to rub when not feeling well.
At 17, Reef is a juvenile delinquent. He lives in a foster home in Halifax and hangs out with friends Bigger and Jink, who exhibits a “pit-bull tenacity and a wild-eyed demeanor.” The youth steal rum from a street drunk and smoke marijuana. In their circle, the only person who takes school seriously is Scarlet, known as Scar, Reef’s sometime girlfriend.
On a night of petty vandalism, Reef throws a rock off an overpass. It shatters the window of a car driven by Elizabeth Hemming, who is seriously injured. The 17-year-old, who is known as Leeza by her family, is in mourning for an older sister, Ellen, who has recently died of cancer.
Leeza suffers a serious concussion, as well as broken bones. She has been in a coma through Reef’s trial and awakens in great pain. Rods have been screwed into her leg bones and she urinates through a catheter.
Reef pleads guilty and avoids juvenile detention by being sentenced to probation in a group home. He is ordered to do volunteer work.
As Leeza begins the arduous task of rehab, she befriends another girl in the ward. Brett Turner first meets the new volunteer, whom she thinks is handsome though sullen. She already has a boyfriend but assumes Leeza might be interested. Of all the places in which he could have volunteered, Reef winds up at the Halifax Rehabilitation Center, where, unknown to him, his victim is being treated.
Reef and Leeza hit it off without knowing each other’s history. He helps her endure the tough rehab assignments, while her kind nature helps him deal with his punishment. Their relationship seems about to take a romantic turn until the moment when Leeza’s mother is introduced to the young man. She immediately recognizes him from having attended his trial. “You bastard!” she shouts. “What are you doing here?” Reef runs out of the hospital room and the mother gets a restraining order against him. The young couple’s budding relationship is at an end.
The First Stone is a coming-of-age novel in which Leeza learns the world is an imperfect place and Reef begins to accept responsibility for his destructive behaviours. The male protagonist discovers he is free to make choices and to accept the consequences. He also learns to care for others.
Sequel and Other Titles
In The Fifth Rule, a 2011 sequel to The First Stone, Aker has Reef and Leeza consummate their interrupted relationship at few years later.
Aker tackled the issue of domestic violence in Of Things Not Seen, his debut novel which was published in 1995. Other titles include Stranger at Bay (about bullying), One on One, The Space Between, Running on Empty, Brothers in Arms, Delusion Road, and Scars and Other Stories.
Awards and Reviews
In 2004, The First Stone won the Ontario Library Association’s White Pine Award and Atlantic Canada’s Ann Connor Brimer Award. It was one of five young adult novels selected for CBC Radio’s “Young Canada Reads” series in 2006. The Halifax Chronicle-Herald called the novel “a startlingly raw story full of drama and insight.” The book was criticized for its tough language. Common swear words are used by teenage characters. The book has also been criticized for a realistic and unromantic ending, as the teenagers Reef and Leeza are forced apart.