Title: Through the LockThrough-the-Lock
Author: Carol Otis Hurst
Pages: 160
Recommended Ages: 10-14
Star Rating: ★★★★

The cover picture on my copy looks much more friendly…

The Story.

All Etta wants is a place where she and her fellow orphaned siblings can stay together and be safe as a family. When she finds the tiny cabin in the woods, she thinks that this may be the very spot!

But the cabin is already occupied by a boy named Walter. He takes her in and agrees to help her find work, but she does not tell him her true wish – to invite her siblings to live with them. Instead, she carefully works to make this possible and endeavors to help Walter in his small jobs.

When Walter lands them in the position of watching the local canal locks and protecting them from vandals, Etta is excited. Now they’ll be in a position to send for her siblings! But first, they must defend the canal from the nasty river boys.

Will Walter and Etta be able to fulfill their job? Will Etta’s siblings ever come to join them?


Relationships play a huge role in Through the Lock. First is Etta’s situation. She is an orphan who has been sent from one stranger’s home to the next, who is treated as a servant girl at each place, and who desperately longs for a time when she can be reunited with her brother and sister. It is to this end that she stumbles into Walter’s cabin. She has finally run away from a home that does not want her and is searching for a new home where she can bring both of her siblings. She labors toward this end for the entire book, but in the end, her siblings do not want to join her. Etta is hurt by this, but she recognizes that they will thrive in their current situations while she has found a new set of people to consider her family.

Second is Walter. Walter is the son of the town drunkard. He has moved into the little cabin to escape the beatings that his father gave him in his drunken state. But instead of whining about his father and complaining about his lot, he accepts both and works past them. When his father comes to visit him, he does not upbraid or accuse him, he merely deals with him. After his father dies, Walter sets about to provide for his mother. He is a very mature lad.

Last is Jake. Jake is a little boy who stutters and who is treated meanly by the woman who employs him. However, he is not an orphan. His parents, he explains are a part of the ‘United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Coming’. They engage in communal living (all the women together and all of the men together) and, while he lived there, Jake was expected not to spend any more time with his real parents than any of the other adults. After a while, this lack of structure got to Jake and he asked the elders of the community if he could be sent somewhere to work. They are happy to help him leave, and, apparently, his parents are fine with his departure. Eventually, he comes to live with Walter and Etta.

Nothing remotely approaching romance occurs between Walter and Etta. However, they do live alone together for a short time (he is twelve and she is eleven). When Walter’s father finds out, he makes a few insinuating comments to Walter about his ‘girlie friend’. Later, this conversation occurs between Walter and Etta.

“Listen,” he said. “Pa found us. Jake found us. Other folks might find us too and if they do come, it’ll be better to have three of us here rather than just you and me. That wouldn’t look right. Folks would think hard of that.” Walter’s face was red and he looked down as he spoke.

I was as embarrassed as he was but he was right. A boy and girl living together wouldn’t be looked on kindly. [pg. 52]

Walter is a fanatic about the canals and cannot understand why anyone could be opposed to them. As it turns out, the canal owners have treated the farmers badly by taking their farmland to be used for the canal locks. At the end, one of the canal managers admits their wrongdoing.

Walter’s father dies in Walter’s cabin. Walter and Etta have no wish to deal with the corpse, so they load it up on a sled and take it to town. However, a friend brings it back to Walter’s cabin, and they have to figure out what to do with it again. This time, they take it to Walter’s mother’s house to bury it there. They go in the middle of the night, and it is a little spooky.

On one occasion, Etta says, “Pride may goeth before a fall but it also goeth a long way toward keeping your dignity.” [pg. 15]

Etta mentions that her father used to tell fortunes by the way an apple peel fell. This is meant to be a conversation starter, but it goes nowhere.

‘Damn’ is used three times, while ‘gosh’ is used twice and ‘darn’, ‘shucks’, and ‘Good Lord’ are each used once. Also, when he is drunk, Walter’s father calls Walter a ‘son of Satan’.

Conclusion. An interesting story about a rarely explored historical topic – the canals of America which were quickly replaced by the railway.

Review © 2013 Laura Verret

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