“No one in this town wanted his help. No one liked being in the same room with him. They scattered like ants hiding from a thunderstorm when he came around, unless of course he did something crazy; then they brought the popcorn bucket.”
What is a man to do when he is cast as the local loony? If he has serious mental health issues and suffered a tragedy that would bring any loving parent to their knees, well he embraces what is expected of him. In the small town of Half Moon Hollow there is a grave that Will Fletcher talks to, where his infant daughter lies beneath. With one horrific mistake, his life as a successful Veterinarian, loving father and husband vanished, and like a curse the townspeople turned on him. But truth can be convoluted, particularly when the town mayor is your former father- in-law.
Fifteen year old Regan has just suffered a tragic loss of her own, she has come to Half Moon Hollow in search of the father she never knew but nothing could have prepared her for the reality of Will. He isn’t stable, is shunned by the townsfolk and cannot open his life to her. She didn’t expect to wake up in his house, and have them think she is just another cruel teen that broke in to harass the ‘crazy Will Fletcher.’ Her Aunt Jane’s first reaction is one of disbelief and anger, her brother cannot handle some strange girl claiming to be the daughter he never knew about, not when he just had another humiliating episode in town. But sometimes fate has other plans. Shamed by the loss of his baby girl, he has too much guilt and fear to attempt to be a father to Regan. It is a betrayal to the daughter he lost to make room in his heart for her, in his thinking, he is a dangerous man and she is better off without him. Jane, Will’s self-sacrificing sister has spent years since the tragedy caring for her brother. Being ripe for ridicule in Half Moon Hollow is nothing new for her, being the town lesbian whose own father had severe schizophrenia. She has spent her life navigating her family’s mental illness, giving up on her own dreams of art, and love. But how much can a person sacrifice when the brother you love won’t help himself? How much is a life worth? Always the caretaker, she cannot let Will abandon the opportunity to get to know his only living child and maybe just maybe there is hope at healing? Dare she dream that maybe Will could stop punishing himself and maybe find a new future with her niece?
But Regan’s presence may just set off episodes that threaten Will’s freedom, which fits just perfectly into the mayor’s scheming. Regan in the meantime, struggles with her peers not for being the new girl, but for being the daughter of the ‘crazy Will Fletcher.’ Stronger than him, she stands in defiance to anyone who would bully her dad, if only Will could learn to love her. She has been abandoned and betrayed so much in her young life that when she sees kindness in a boy named Lane, she doesn’t believe she can trust it. With her dead mother’s voice as a driving force, she forges ahead in trying to become a part of this strange new family. Her and Will have more in common than they know, both feeling responsible for deaths in their lives.
The family finds friendship in the soft-hearted new Principal (Lindsay) at Regan’s school, one of the few people who doesn’t shun the family. But the closer she gets, the more it strains the bond between the siblings. Lindsay may come to help them in the end, as much as her choices hurt them. Lindsay is one of the best characters used to show how easy it is for people to automatically go along with the crowd before really knowing the truth about a person. It’s easy to believe what you see and hear but many times the truth is far more complicated. As she gets closer to Jane, Will and Regan her heart becomes entangled with the Fletchers. More than she could ever have imagined, and so much that she may be willing to risk everything she has in life, even her career.
The entire novel takes the reader into the hearts and minds of Will and his loved ones and the difficulties of living with mental illness. It also exposes the reality of caring for loved ones affected by psychiatric disorders. But what really hits the gut is how those outside the family react to it. The cruelness exists in the mockery and ugliness when then should be compassion. We like to think we’ve moved past social shaming, but the truth is- many people are scared of differences, which may well exacerbate illnesses. It’s easier to dismiss what you don’t understand, which says something rotten of our inhumanity to each other. At the novel’s final moments, the truth alters everything Will has built his life on, but what does it change in the end? I think the author’s ending was perfect. I always enjoy a novel that makes readers internalize a situation. I certainly admire Jane’s tenacity in caring for her brother, because it is a thankless job most of the time, but it comes from a place of pure love inside of her.
As an aside, it is a sad fact that people shun others that live with mental illness. Sadly, the most people hear about it is when someone has committed a crime, so it feeds the fear. It’s a vicious cycle, because when people are shunned, they retreat further into themselves and even people of ‘sound mind’ , if you can call anyone sound, don’t do well without interacting with others. We have voices for speaking, bodies for touching, and starving anyone of human contact is cruel, changes us on an emotional level but when you are already suffering, is it any wonder why their mental illness worsens? For Will, the towns expectations turn his obstacles into seemingly insurmountable mountains.
The Rules Of Half is a love story, not just between man and woman, but between siblings, children and their parents and friends. More than an anniversary of grief, Regan’s arrival marks what will be an anniversary of a new life for everyone in the novel, including herself. A lovely tender story.
Publication Date: June 6, 2017