The Secret Under the Whirlpool.
Elaine Breault Hammond.
Grades 5 - 8 / Ages 10 - 13.
Maggie, a 12-year-old orphan who is spending a holiday on Prince Edward Island with her great aunt, is lonely and bored. Marc McKay, who lives next door, is also 12 and recovering from a car accident in which he lost his legs. The two unhappy youngsters go canoing together, are drawn into a whirlpool and suddenly find themselves back in 18th century Prince Edward Island. Most of the book tells of the adventures the pair have as Acadian children. The novel's historical portion is tied to the contemporary opening in two ways.
Firstly, Maggie has a strange experience while she is canoing. "Then, above the sound of the surf, she heard another noise. At first it was a hollow, rushing sound ... then over it she heard the sound of wailing. It sounded like a woman's or a child's voice...She raised her paddle ... as she looked around. There was no one on top of the cliff, at least that she could see. But the sound was closer than that. It was very near...the sound ... seemed to be all around her now ... Then ... she could hear a voice ... The voice followed her...It was saying the same phrase over and over. "Ou est-ce-que vous etes?" (pp. 11, 12)
Secondly, Marc's mother is an Acadian, and Maggie goes with the McKays to visit Tante Helen who collects stories of Acadian life. While they are there, Maggie reads one of the stories that Tante Helen has collected. Maggie skimmed over the parts she could not understand, but she could make out the gist of the story. It happened before the deportation of the 1700s. A boy and girl from a settlement had wandered into the woods one day and were never seen again. They had probably been killed by the wild animals that lived in the terrible forest. (p. 24)
When Maggie and Marc escape the whirlpool, they are in a cave. The next thing they know, they are in the woods and have been found by a search party looking for Marguerite and Jean-Marc (obviously the children in Tante Helen's story). Everyone believes them to be Marguerite and Jean-Marc. The remainder of the book tells of their adventures as Acadian children and their struggle to decide whether they should stay there or try to return to their own time. Since Maggie now has loving parents and siblings and Marc has two good legs, they are both tempted to remain in the past, despite knowing about the tragedy of the coming explusion of the Acadians from their homes.
The historical part of the story is interesting and appears to be accurate historically, but one wonders why the author felt the need to use the time travel convention. Why not simply write the story as a straight historical novel? Chapter 10 illustrates a problem that arises when you try to weld modern sensibilities to historical reality. When a bear eats a pig belonging to Marguerite's family, it is a tragedy for a family not far from starvation. A trap is built to try and capture the bear. That night Maggie awakens from a dream and decides to go to see if the bear has been captured. It has, and Maggie feels so sorry for it that she lets it out of the trap. The whole episode is preposterous. Firstly, it is unlikely that she could have snuck out of the tiny cabin without disturbing anyone. Secondly, short of absolute necessity, no one (especially a child) would go out alone in the middle of the night into a forest full of wild animals. Thirdly, Maggie realizes how serious the loss of the pig is to Marguerite's family and that the bear meat will make up for it to some degree, but she still decides that the bear's freedom is more important.
Irene Gordon, a teacher-librarian who has spent the past 13 years working in a junior high school in Winnipeg, Manitoba, is presently co-editor of the MSLA Journal published by the Manitoba School Library Association.
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Copyright © 1997 the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
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TABLE OF CONTENTS FOR THIS ISSUE - MAY 23, 1997.
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