Ottawa Citizen Review - The Secret of Sentinel Rock

Reviewed by: Rachna Gilmore

One of the greater challenges of historial fiction is the homogenizing of historical detail into an engaging plot with believable characters. The commonest pitfall is the presence of chunks of historical data that stall the flow of the story.

Two books published by Regina's Coteau Books explores all aspects of Canadian pioneer history and, for the most part, achieve that mix between historical fact and dynamic story.

The Secret of Sentinel Rock, set in the Prairies of Saskatchewan, is a time-travel story, oscillating between 1996 and 1899. When 12-year-old Emily's 96-year-old grandmother dies, Emily seeks comfort in the familiar landscape of her grandmother's farm. Climbing a large rock her grandmother loved, she is startled to find a girl, Emma, dressed in old-fashioned clothes. Emily discovers that Emma has recently arrived from Scotland, then realizes, to her amazement, that she is somehow back in Emma's time -- 1899.

Over the next few days, in between helping her mother sort through her grandmother's house, Emily returns to Emma's time, where months have passed between her visits. As the girls become friends, Emily plays a pivotal role in helping Emma's family survive an influenze epidemic. Using photographs from her grandmother's attic, Emily eventually unravels the mystery of her own connection to Emma. Her insight into the rigors of pioneer life helps her come to terms with her own grief at the impending sale of her grandmother's farm.

This is an interesting story with convincing details of pioneer Prairie life, from the description of the sod houses pioneers built, to the very real dangers posed by isolation and illness.

The growing friendship between Emily and Emma is touching and believable, so when they meet for the last time, we share Emily's anguish. As well, there is a solid satisfaction to the cycle that links Emily, her own grandmother, and Emma -- a link not as predictable as it first appears. 

This is Silverthorne's first juvenile novel and it is a fine effect. At times, however; the writing is awkward, with a tendency to over-explain emotions that would be better revealed through action. This, as well as traces of didacticism, diminish the impact of an otherewise intriguing novel.

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