CM . . .
. Volume XVII Number 04 . . . . September 24, 2010
Due to the pervasiveness of domestic violence against women worldwide, organizations and global initiatives, such as the Canadian Women's Foundation and White Ribbon Campaign, have worked to increase public awareness, assist victims of domestic violence, and foster societal conditions that are conducive towards reducing such violence. Several teen novels have dealt with the shattering and long-term effects of domestic violence, but Rosemarie Boll's The Second Trial is distinctive in that the author has an intricate understanding of the Canadian legal system and the means by which domestic violence charges are dealt with in court. As a result, the novel has an added element of authenticity that contributes to its representation of domestic violence's effects. These effects are not only the physical scars that result from the moment of domestic violence, but also the psychological, economic, and social effects that they leave on victims, their families, and communities. As Boll's novel shows, the addressing of domestic violence in court is, in itself, insufficient as a resolution. Instead, it is what occurs after the trial that is more crucial in terms of rehabilitating the lives of those affected.
Danny McMillan, the protagonist of Boll's novel, must cope with the aftereffects of domestic violence after his father is sentenced in court for abusing his mother. These aftereffects involve Danny's dealing with the psychological conflict that he experiences as well as with the complete eradication of his former identity, through which he must uproot himself from his community and everything that he has ever known. In the process, he and his family must take on new identities, relocate themselves to New Haven, Manitoba, and sever all familial and social ties.
The novel, itself, is divided into two distinct parts.†The first part deals with the actual court trial in which Danny's father is the defendant and the family's subsequent participation in the NIVA program (New Identities for Victims of Abuse). Boll depicts this process in detail by showing how Danny's mother, Catherine, gives her statement, how the lawyers for the plaintiff and defendant cross-examine, what evidence is considered in court, and what verdict the trial judge provides. The court trial is interspersed with Danny's own memories of his father, through which readers will see the confusion that Danny struggles with because of his love for his father and his desperate desire to believe that things could be righted again so that they can be one happy family. Following the verdict passed against his father, the second part of the novel deals with the struggles of Danny, his sister Jennifer, and his mother after they relocate to New Haven.
Readers will sympathize with Danny and his difficulties in accepting his new life. This is where Boll's psychological exploration of Danny is particularly compelling and effective because it illustrates the complexity of dealing with domestic violence from the perspective of someone who has not been affected by it directly. As Danny was a witness to his family's domestic violence, his selective memories of his father illustrate how people may cling to memories of past circumstances because they are comforting, predictable, and seemingly happier. Danny's comparison of his present circumstances everything from his new school and peers to his neighbourhood and home with his idealized memories of his past life in Edmonton repeatedly becomes the basis for his conflict with his family and impede his acceptance of his new life.
Danny's ongoing frustration and anger at his circumstances lead him to align himself with the seedier elements of his school peers, through which he steals, lies, and eventually participates in the bullying of another classmate. However, it is clear that Danny's actions are not due to the fact that he has inherently deviant or violent tendencies. Rather, they are the result of the changes that have resulted from his relocation and his desperate desire to establish some certainty and control over his life, which he feels have been relinquished ever since the court trial.
Perhaps one downside of this narrative is its incorporation of legal terminology and detailed representation of the trial, itself, particularly in the first part of the book. This is not to suggest that it is poorly written because Boll clearly has a sound knowledge of Canada's legal system. This comes through particularly clearly in segments such as the court trial for Danny's father, during which readers will feel like that they are actually witnessing the trial unfold. However, such a story may not necessarily attract readers, particularly younger teens, who may find it more interesting to read about and identify with Danny's experiences. Boll does a good job of providing an extended, albeit very descriptive and accurate, narration of the courtroom trial and the subsequent process by which Danny and his family are given new identities, but this may be of greater interest to older teens who can perhaps better appreciate the legalities of dealing with domestic violence and its consequences. There are a few points when it appears that this knowledge is expounded in a manner that may seem workmanlike to some readers, at the expense of maintaining a compelling narrative that moves the story forward.
It is after the courtroom trial, and especially the second half of the book, during which Danny's thoughts and experiences are explored more extensively. This is where readers will become more engaged with the story. After the family's move to Manitoba, Danny meets Nixxie and deals with his anger and sadness towards his mother as well as his father, with whom he would like to reconnect. Danny's inability to understand or accept the situation escalates his alienation from his family and accelerates his initiation into the group of troublemakers at his new school. Being cool and fitting in becomes a way of coping with a situation that is not in his control, even if it does involve delinquent behaviours such as bullying and stealing. However, Danny comes to realize that these feelings of belonging and control are only temporary and that they come at the expense of other people who suffer as a consequence of these behaviours.
As a whole, The Second Trial suggests the hopeful possibility that domestic violence victims and others affected by it can move on and create new lives for themselves. Danny and Nixxie are both survivors, but what distinguishes Nixxie from Danny initially is that she has learned to accept that the past is something she cannot change. Although painful memories will stay with her, Nixxie has recognized that she can never go back to how things were like before. Instead, she has accepted her new life with her foster parents. Danny's anger and rebelliousness is perhaps resolved a bit too quickly, although the narrative does give a few hints earlier on that suggest Danny's gradual acceptance of his new life. In part, Danny's friendship with Nixxie provides him with the emotional stability and strength to move on from his past and make a more determined effort to thrive in his current life.
Given its timely subject area, this book would be a beneficial addition to different libraries collections. The book's intended readership makes it a natural fit in a public or school library, but academic libraries with teen fiction or perhaps an educational section would also benefit from its addition. Because domestic violence is an ongoing and debilitating problem in Canadian society, increasing awareness about this important issue, whether through fiction, nonfiction, or other means, is important. Moreover, this novel is valuable as it presents domestic violence victims as empowered individuals who can extricate themselves from desperate circumstances in order to forge new lives. At the same time, it gives a sobering portrait and reminder that domestic violence is something that cannot be resolved in isolation, but rather something that requires assistance from the entire community.
The novel's language is appropriate for its intended age group, and the story is written in an accessible manner. Young readers may require some explanation or contextualization of aspects, such as the book's legalistic language and its references to the Alberta government's New Identities for Victims of Abuse program. The book does have a short explanatory note about the NIVA program that will help readers. Within a school curriculum, this novel would work well as part of a unit that focuses on contemporary teen novels. Alternatively, the subject of domestic violence or broader subject of dysfunctional families would be another area within which this book could be placed.
For more information about Rosemarie Boll and her novel, readers can visit her official website at http://rosemarieboll.com/ and the publisher's website at http://www.secondstorypress.ca/.
Huai-Yang Lim has completed a degree in Library and Information Studies and currently works as a research specialist. Resident in Edmonton, AB, he enjoys reading, reviewing, and writing children's literature in his spare time.
To comment on this
title or this review, send mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal
use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any
other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.