NWR Review - The Secret of Sentinel Rock

Reviewed by: Esme Bradley

There's a charming idea for a story in The Secret of Sentinel Rock: Emily, pre-teen protagonist town kid (from Regina), after her beloved grandmother's funeral, while wandering on Grandma's and her favourite stretch of prairie near the family farm, encounters an ancestral counterpart, Emma, complete with high-button shoes and long dress not designed for rodeo wear or heritage days, as she finds out. The two meld a relationship based on secret meetings carried out amid exchanges of magical stones, and a rapid-fire change of seasons to distinguish misty past from reality.

Whether this story will enchant youngsters between nine and 14 depends on their tolerance for folklore, herbal remedies and geology-cum-homesteading hints thrown into a plot that is fairly weighty on its own. Experienced prairie ramblers, even those without geologist fathers, may ask grumpy questions, as I did: Aren't poplars the same as aspen? When do tiger lillies bloom? A dolomite rock? Why such a smug answer, "lime and clay mixture," for questions about soddy-chinking? And, one wonders, are there are [sic] no living men anywhere? Dad, absent, and the promising farm-renter, Mr. Ferguson, serve little purpose; and, in spite of those nice aunties, poor Emily has enough trouble with her snarky mom to require a little balance in her life. (That's what you get for leaving the farm to become an advertising exec.!)

But to give Silverthorne her due, the smells and sounds of the prairie are well-rendered, the families, phantom and modern, believable; and the suspense fairly well sustained. Only, conditioned as we've all been to the prairie storm in fiction, it was strange nothing much came of the rain. Surely we could expect anything from drought-breaking to cyclones! However, the resulting coziness of the rain patter on the roof of the dusty attic filled with old Country Guides and Family Heralds rings a bell. I hope it does with young readers. I was haunted by W.O. Mitchell's Brian on his "first common denominator of nature" prairie, irritatingly mixed with Connie Kaldor's catchy "Spring on the prairie/ Comes like a surprise." Silverthorne might do well to consult both for a greater surety of tone.

When she finds a firmer voice for this rather difficult age, she may well tell a more convincing, and, one hopes, simpler story. There seems to be lots there for future delights.

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