________________ CM . . . . Volume XV Number 1 . . . . August 29, 2008

cover Withershins.

Susan Rocan.
Winnipeg, MB: Great Plains, 2008.
225 pp., pbk., $14.95.
ISBN 978-1-894283-75-5.

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

Grades 7-12 / Ages 12-17.

Review by Pam Klassen-Dueck.

*** /4


“This may sound like a really strange question, but what is today’s date?”

“October tenth,” Annie answered.

I hesitated to ask the next question for fear they’d know I was crazy, but I had to know.

“What year?” I probed, grimacing under their stares.

“Why, the year of our Lord, eighteen hundred and forty-six, of course!” Annie responded with an incredulous look on her face.


When Michelle Langly accompanies her friends to St. Andrew’s Church, the oldest stone church on the prairies, she thinks their plan is straightforward: to complete research for their high school history project. However, when one of the boys convinces Michelle to try ‘withershins’ – the ritual of running three circles around the church at midnight – she is transported back in time to 1846 Lower Fort Garry. Bewildered, she finds herself amid prairie fort life, as the Ojibway people insist that she has been sent to them as a teacher, with no idea of how to return to her own time.

      In Withershins, Susan Rocan reconstructs the mid-nineteenth century at Manitoba’s Lower Fort Garry, which is the oldest intact stone fort in North America, as well as the location of the signings of Treaty no. 1. Withershins is a time slip fantasy that provides an interesting glimpse of life both inside and outside the prairie fort.

      The story focuses on Michelle’s journey toward recovering her identity. Throughout her trip to the past, she is unaware of her own heritage – and doesn’t understand why she has been called to the past to help the aboriginal people who live outside of the for – and so she hastens to return to the twenty-first century, which leads to an unfortunately abrupt end to her time spent in 1846. The twist ending (foretold by many hints) reveals that she is, in fact, of First Nations ancestry, so it begins to make more sense to her that she was chosen to go back in time to learn and help preserve her culture. The novel remains open to a sequel in which Michelle, due to her insatiable curiosity about her newfound heritage, as well as a blossoming relationship with a young man named Bear, may not be in such a hurry to leave.

      I liked the author’s concept of using withershins as Michelle’s entrance to the past. The word ‘withershins’ also refers to something that moves in a direction opposite to the natural one, and this definition connects to Michelle’s life before her discovery of her own First Nations heritage: she becomes able, finally, to set herself aright on her course in life.

      The narrative feels stilted in a few spots, and the text, itself, would benefit from some copy editing. In general, however, Withershins is an interesting glimpse for adolescent readers into mid-nineteenth century ways of life in Lower Fort Garry.


A middle years teacher, Pam Klassen-Dueck is presently a graduate student in the M.Ed. program at Brock University.

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

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