CM . . .
. Volume XI Number 7 . . . . November 26, 2004
In the early 18th century, a fort was established on the Detroit River, north of Lake Erie by Antoine Cadillac, for the purposes of trading with the indiens. Sister to the Wolf builds on historical facts, creating fictional characters who struggle with the politics of the day, the weaknesses in the characters of both men and women, and the place of spirituality in day to day life.
Widower Robert Chesne and his young daughter, Cecile, are called from Quebec City to live and work at Fort Detroit, established by their acquaintance, Cadillac. They take with them a young pani (Indian slave) bought by Cecile as she cannot bear his suffering. Lesharo, in gratitude for his freedom, stays with the Chesne's and dedicates his life to their safety. Once at the fort, Robert leaves on an extended hunting party, and Lesharo takes on the job of protecting Cecile from both unwanted suitors and vicious gossip. Cecile begins the job of tutoring the out-of-control sons of Cadillac and his wife, Marie-Therese. A young French lieutenant, Edmond Saint-Germain, who has also lived with the indiens as a child, is attracted to Cecile. Pierre Roy and his indien wife, Marguerite, camp away from the fort with Robert, Cecile and Lesharo when no one can stand the politics of the fort a moment longer. Others wonder at the relationship of Cecile and her sauvage, Lesharo, while Cecile herself only gradually becomes aware that Edmond and Lesharo are both in love with her. When Lesharo tries to protect the magical wolf that hovers in the background of this story, Cadillac's minions capture them both. However, in a devastating fire, both escape with Cecile's help. The Chesne's and Lesharo leave for the west and Lesharo's Pawnee tribe, who will welcome Cecile as Lesharo's bride.
In this engrossing tale, the characters are searching for what it means to be a family, and how people should treat others. There is tension between the whites and the indiens about what is and is not civilized. The proper Marie-Therese cannot tame her wild children, but Cecile and the sauvage Lesharo treat the boys with calm, firm cheerfulness and lots of outdoor exercise, turning them into stronger children. Cecile's mother's death allows her father to take Cecile out into the wilderness, a rough life with no pretensions, where she thrives. Cecile cannot survive in the artificial life in the fort, where gossip and politics and anger poison the atmosphere. The bigotry and racism towards the indiens, while tolerated by most, is appalling to the Chesne's, who celebrate the simplicity of the native way of living close to the land and in harmony with nature.
Cecile is a strong character whose determination and energy confound the French at the fort and delight her father and Lesharo. She grows from a compliant young girl into a forthright powerful woman who finds her destiny. Lesharo moves from prisoner to devoted friend and searcher for his own family. In the end, even Edmond chooses the indien life over that of the proper French gentleman soldier. The laconic Robert Chesne is supportive of Cecile's any wish, and often absent, so she can solve problems on her own or with Lesharo. Even the minor characters of Marguerite, Pierre, Cadillac, his wife and their sons are rich and supportive of the main characters' development.
With the help of a map that details their journeys, and the authentic descriptions that bring the setting to life, the reader is drawn into early 1700's in Canada.
This is a long (348 pages) novel that will attract middle school students who, in persisting in their reading to discover what happens to Cecile, will also soak up much Canadian history.
Joan Marshall is the teacher-librarian at Fort Richmond Collegiate in Winnipeg, MB.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.