This ie one of my catch-up posts from the 48 Hour Book Challenge. I don’t know why it took me as long as it did to read this one–William Bell is pretty consistently awesome, and I do try to read most of the Canadian kids and YA award winners. Maybe because I thought it had more to do with gang life than it does, and I wasn’t in the mood for something gritty. Anyhow, I’ve unreservedly recommended it to several people since then, and I’m glad I finally did read it.
Lee’s used to being on his own. His mom died of cancer when he was seven. His dad has worked two jobs for years, trying to pay off the trip to Italy that was the last thing he could do for his dying wife–a trip where Lee got left behind with his aunt.
Lee doesn’t need his family. He tells himself he doesn’t need anyone, but he’s still trying to get into the toughest gang in his neighbourhood. When his initiation ends with Lee in the back seat of a police car, he’s forced to face up to the fact that someone betrayed him and tipped off the cops. It just confirms what he already knows. You can never show weakness or give in. You have to stand up and fight for yourself because no-one else will.
Lee gets lucky. Instead of jail time, he finds himself facing exile, sent away from Hamilton to live with his Aunt Reena in the town of New Toronto. Lee’s hugely resentful at first, but gradually finds himself drawn into the routine, and into the lives of the regulars at Reena’s Cafe Unique. Some of them are college students, some of them are down on their luck, and others are just plain wierd. When Lee starts delivering meals for Reena by bike, he gets to know Andrea the pharmacist, Krantz, a meterology buff, and Cutter, a paranoid, possibly schizophrenic conspiracy theorist.
Lee finds Cutter fascinating. Cutter has a brilliant mind, top-notch computer equipment, and when he’s taking his medication and having a good week, he’s eccentric. And amazingly enough, he trusts Lee. But when everything changes abruptly and irrevocably, Lee starts to put together Cutter’s story and finds his own life profoundly altered as a result.
William Bell packs an awful lot into a deceptively skinny book. This is a story of choices, of redemption, and of the far-reaching consequences of violence. It’s also a well-paced, fast-moving book starting in the back of a police car. Lee could have been a totally unsympathetic character, but knowing where he’s coming from and seeing the decisions he makes is part of what makes this such a powerful story. And when I realized where exactly the title came from, it was blindingly obvious, and perfectly fitting.