Books in Canada Review– The Secret of Sentinel Rock

Reviewed by: Bruce Bartlett

Books in Canada – November 1, 1996

The good news last. Behold a strange brew of adolescent confrontation with mortality, pioneer life on the prairies, time travel, and family mystery.  In less skilled hands, this odd mixture could have been a recipe for a disastrous novel.  But in the first chapter of The Secret of Sentinel Rock, the reader is immediately curious; by the middle chapters, quite captivated; by the end of the novel, bittersweetly charmed.  A Regina-bred twelve-year-old, Emily, is at the family’s ancestral farm for her much-beloved grandmother’s funeral.  Sentinel Rock, on the edge of the property, becomes for Emily what the wardrobe was for the children in the Narnia series: a window of passage between the two worlds.  Emily repeatedly time-travels to a century earlier, always finding herself still on the farm.  Her chief contact in the past is another twelve-year-old, Emma.  At the risk of revealing too much of this enchanting novel, we’ll let out that Emma is partly a mystery figure in Emily’s old family photo albums, partly Emily’s doppleganger.

Emily is squarely front-and-centre in this story.  We live the story through her grief at the grandmother’s death and through her search for the mystery of a century earlier that lies in Sentinel Rock.  Not least among the strengths of the story is the depiction of rigours of pioneer life for Emily’s Scottish forebears, a small history lesson skillfully woven into her time travels.  The names of the two girls, their comportment and character, and even the occasionally lyrical passages in the story suggest an author thoroughly familiar with her Austen and Brontes. (What befalls Emma cannot fail to remind us a bit of Helen Burns in Jane Eyre.) But enough said; get out and read The Secret of Sentinel Rock for yourself.

Reviewed by Bruce Bartlett. Excerpt taken from longer article.

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