________________ CM . . . . Volume XII Number 9 . . . . January 6, 2006


The Secret of the Stone House. (From Many Peoples).

Judith Silverthorne.
Regina, SK: Coteau Books, 2005.
217 pp., pbk., $8.95.
ISBN 1-55050-325-1.

Subject Headings:
Time travel-Juvenile fiction.
Mothers and daughters-Juvenile fiction.
Frontier and pioneer life-Juvenile fiction.
Saskatchewan-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 3-7 / Ages 8-12.

Review by Laura Dodwell-Groves.

** /4


She peered into the dark hole and at first saw nothing. Picking up a small stick from the ground, she prodded gently inside. If the bird was there, she didn't want to come into direct contact with it. She wanted to be prepared in case she went shooting back into the past. At last, she felt the stick nudge something. She wiggled it towards her, holding her breath in anticipation, as the object neared the edge. She gasped in surprise.

Yes, it was the carved bird, but it was dull-looking, greyed and weathered not at all like the fresh carving she had seen earlier. Of course, it had been there for nearly a century, so she shouldn't be surprised.

She focused on her immediate task. Rubbing her hands on her jeans, she licked her lips and steadied herself, touching the house for support. Then she reached out and grasped the small carving. At the same time she lost her footing and fell backwards. She landed on her butt and let out a little screech. She was looking at the same stone wall of the house, but she was in the past, sitting in the rubble and dirt surrounding the construction site, in the twilight.


This book is the sequel to The Secret of Sentinel Rock. When readers rejoin 12-year-old Emily, she is not particularly happy. Not only has her grandmother died, but her parents are getting divorced and her friend Emma (from the past) has died of pneumonia. Now she has returned to her grandmother's stone farmhouse, but only to get it ready for sale.

     Time travel is Emily's escape once more. But this time back in 1903, the lovely old stone house is just being built, secret nooks and all. As Emily learns more about both the house and its occupants, from prairie fires to ghosts and diaries, she becomes determined not to let her mother sell the house. Through her many discoveries, Emily begins to see that so much of dealing with the future involves understanding the past.

     Author Judith Silverthorne seems very at home in her setting. The imagery of the prairies, both past and present, is richly drawn. There is also a wonderful sense of magic running through almost everything in and around the stone house, which leaves us in no doubt of why Emily is so fond of it.

     It is this magic which allows Emily's time travel device to change. Sentinel rock and the black stone of the first book are replaced here by the house, itself, and a small carved bird. However, because of these changes and also the disjointed timings of the two worlds, Emily is constantly worrying that she will not get back soon enough, or at all. While this nervousness creates a sense of suspense, it is also sometimes a little distracting. It prevented me from living in the moment with Emily. Rather than fully enjoying, for example, the delights of the wedding or the bittersweet chaos of the auction, I felt a bit too much like a yo-yo in mid throw: disoriented.

     Emily's journey throughout the book is more than just back and forth through time. She is having to come to terms with the loss of her grandmother and her father (death and divorce) and her mother's distrustful attitude. The catalyst for her confrontations with her father (for not wanting to see her) and her mother (for selling the house) was perhaps a bit arbitrary or abrupt. Nonetheless, Silverthorne gives all generations of her female characters (grandmother, mother and daughter) wonderful nuances that make their chosen paths quite engaging. The subplot of mother's crush is a good example.

     In The Secret of the Stone House, Silverthorne creates a comfortable world to visit. Her detailed knowledge of the time and area make for a rich backdrop to an interesting story. It seems to be a book about being lost and found. Readers see Emily start a transition from child to young adult and taking charge of her own direction. The relative openness of the ending is very successful in realistically portraying Emily's journey: that this is only just the beginning.



Laura Dodwell-Groves is a Master of Children's Literature Student at the University of British Columbia.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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ISSN 1201-9364
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