________________ CM . . . . Volume XVII Number 2. . . .September 10, 2010.


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

Judith Silverthorne.
Regina, SK: Coteau Books, 2010.
181 pp., pbk., $8.95.
ISBN 978-1-55050-431-6.

Subject Heading:
Scotland-History-Juvenile literature.

Grades 5-9 / Ages 10-14.

Review by Mary Thomas.





[Emily] studied her face in the mirror, which was cloudy in spots after its long travels. Moments later her image wavered, as if light shifted inside the glass. Her face, her long brown hair, faded, and mist swirled across the glass. It cleared to reveal a circle of large stones on a grassy hill. Some stood upright, while others had fallen on their sides or lay partly buried in the earth, crusted with orange and lime-green lichen.

By one of the upright stones, she made out a human shape. The figure moved closer. For a moment everything blurred, and then a face filled the mirror, the face of a young woman with black hair loose to her shoulders and a roughly woven shawl over her head. Her dark eyes seemed to look right at Emily, as if she were no further away than the distance to the mirror.

Emily's hands trembled and her very bones felt cold. The woman needed to tell her something.

Bring it back.

Emily jerked and almost dropped the mirror. When she looked again, the image had dissolved.

Who was the woman, and how could she speak through the mirror?

Emily lives with her mother in the city, but her grandmother's prairie farmhouse has always meant a lot to her. Now she is about to go to Scotland with her father, and when she gets back, the farmhouse may well have been sold. Perhaps that is why she suddenly feels the need to take with her an old mirror she recently found under the hearthstone of the house. She wants to discover all she can about her Scottish ancestors, and the mirror seems to be a link.

     In fact, it is more than just a link. As Emily and her father attempt to reestablish a relationship now that Emily’s parents are divorced, the mirror shows her pieces of family history that get her looking ever deeper into the lives and connections of her ancestors. In the tiny village where her great-grandparents lived before they emigrated to Canada, she discovers that she is distantly related to practically everyone, from the laird of the manor to the local scoundrel. The mirror, with its uncanny and unnerving trick of revealing answers to questions she's formed vaguely only in her mind, helps to explain the complexity of her family's story and seems to be instrumental in actually sending her back to experience life, and death, in the eighteenth century.

     Emily is a complex character. The depth of her interest in the past has been increased by a previous experience of time travel, but interest alone is not enough. She has absorbed enough of her father's scholarship and her mother's orderliness that she is able to make logical sense of genealogical tables and tombstone carvings, as well as her own experiences and the revelations of the mirror. As she works out relationships and connections, she also discovers truths about her immediate family and how they will manage to survive, despite parental break-up.

     Looking for one's roots is a well-known modern obsession. Emily's experience ties in with this, though her search has more reason behind it than most. Given that, even though she has the mirror to help her research, it was still not an easy task to sort out the interconnections among her forebears, the story paints a reasonable picture of just how difficult such a search can be, and how rewarding. One of the book's weaknesses is the difficulty the reader has in keeping track of names and generations of the various branches of Emily's family. Because it says that she has constructed a family tree, providing a picture of it at the end where it would not reveal the plot might have been a kindness to the reader. The book's real strength, however, is that it is an exciting story, well told, and interesting. To all readers: be prepared not to want to put this one down ... and to want to visit Scotland yourself as soon as possible!


Mary Thomas has done her share of family research, but she has not yet discovered a magic mirror or a noble ancestor. She lives and works in Winnipeg, MB.

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

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.
Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.