Shadows on the Rock – Book Review
Willa Cather’s “Shadow on the Rock” is a descriptive, gentle, immersive look at life in Quebec in the late 17th century. Twelve-year-old Cecile lives with her apothecary father, navigating life between the Upper and Lower Towns of Quebec City. Cecile takes care of the young half-orphaned Jacques, listens to stories of the woods and rivers from Pierre Charron the adventurer, and practices her faith under the careful but tender eye of Pere de Laval. She takes care of her father and their fine house and shop, and worries about what it will be like to one day return to her native France when her father’s employer must return to serve the King.
Sprinkled heavily with French words and sentences, this book would be a nice stepping stone into reading longer French texts. While the reader doesn’t need to fully understand all the French to appreciate the story (my French is virtually non-existent!), it would be fun for a blossoming French student to be able to read a book that brings French and English together. If you have children who enjoyed the Dear Canada series, this book would be excellent for continued reading. Historical figures like Governor Frontenac and Sieur de la Salle are woven into the story, similar to how historical events are treated in the Dear Canada books.
A head’s up to parents: while there are few mature topics, and the ones that are discussed are dealt with subtly and delicately, this book may not be suitable for younger children, and may not be a good choice for a read-aloud. Young Jacques’ mother is the town prostitute, abandoning her son to the elements and good nature of her neighbors while she entertains the sailors who come and go from Quebec City. While her activities are never named explicitly, it is clear what is going on at her hotel. Mentions of torture endured by Catholic priests at the hands of some Indigenous nations are also briefly described and may be disturbing to younger children.
Despite touching on heavy subject matter, this book reads like a cross between a Dear Canada novel and Lucy Maud Montgomery’s books. Descriptions are vivid and captivating, and the characters jump off the page. The ideals, values, attitudes, and hard-working character of the first generations of French settlers in Canada thread through the book, and the reader comes away with an appreciation for the hardship and an admiration for the tenacity and good nature of generations gone by. Overall, this book is a lovely addition to your Canadian history bookshelf and will captivate the imagination of your children.
Abigail is a Royal Conservatory of Music graduate; she completed her ARCT in Piano Pedagogy in 2020 and she teaches piano and violin. Abigail is the oldest of 7 and was homeschooled from start to finish. She likes to listen to Bach, Beethoven, and jazz. Other interests include reading, watercolours, and crochet.