The Root Cellar Book Summary and Study Guide

Detailed plot synopsis reviews of The Root Cellar

Rose travels back in time to the Civil War period to help her friend-from-the-past find a lost soldier who may be injured in Fort Washington, New York. Rose Larkin is a sullen and angry young girl who has led what she considers a miserable life since she became an orphan when her parents were killed in a car accident. Since then, she's been sent to live with her Aunt in an old country estate near Hawthorne Bay in Ontario, Canada. When Rose arrives at her Aunt's house, she is sorely disappointed. After living in New York City, she finds this house derelict and old-fashioned – her Aunt isn't even at home to welcome her when she arrives! While Rose is waiting awkwardly in the driveway for her Aunt, she is greeted by a woman who calls herself Mrs. Morrissay – the woman claims that Rose has visited her before. Before Rose can figure out what's going on, she sees her Aunt and cousins coming around the corner and Mrs. Morissay disappears.
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Rose is cranky and unfriendly to what she considers her “country-bumpkin” and unrefined relatives. But her relatives are good-natured and understand it will take her a while to settle into her new life. She finds out that her Aunt, Uncle and cousins claimed to have seen ghosts around their house and Rose suspects that Mrs. Morissay might be one of them. She thinks her new family is crazy.

One day, Rose meets Mrs. Morissay again. Mrs. Morissay insists that she is no ghost but that actually she somehow “shifts” in time – one moment she is doing her own thing and suddenly she finds herself in another time period. She follows Mrs. Morissay who disappears into an old root cellar in the yard. When Rose re-emerges from the root cellar she finds out that this time, it's her that has “shifted” into the past. Rose meets a little boy and girl named Will and Susan and she spends the day with them rowing on the pond and doing what Rose would normally consider very child-ish things for a modern day kid to do. The longer she stays with them, however, the more she realizes she doesn't want to go back to her own time. When Will and Susan have to go home, she decides to hide out in the country until they come to play with her the next day.

Over the next few days, Rose spends more time with Will, in particular, learning that the year is 1862. Will and Susan sneak out food from their house to eat with her and Rose discovers that Will's house is also her Aunt's house in her present time. Rose finally tells them the truth – that she's from the future. Her new friends think she's just telling stories and they promise to help her find a more comfortable place to sleep in a barn. Just when Rose decides that maybe she'll stay a bit longer, an old woman with a fierce-looking face sees her. Frightened, Rose runs into the root cellar to hide. When she comes back out, she's back in her own time and in fact, only a few hours have passed since she's left. She's immediately depressed as the other time felt like such a magical and happy time and she wonders if she'll ever be able to return.

One day, Rose remembers that the day she entered the root cellar and traveled back in time, the shadow of a nearby Hawthorne tree was cast right over the door of the cellar. When Rose enters and exits the root cellar at this exact timing, she finally goes back in time again. She immediately sees Will and Susan, except now they older – in their early teenage years. She overhears Will telling Susan that he plans on joining up in the army to fight in the Civil War. Rose is shocked and feels strangely betrayed in some way that life moved on in this other “time” without her so she returns to her own world. The next day, she travels back in time again, but this time Susan sees her and can't believe that Rose – the girl they met when they were kids - was actually a real person. After getting her bearings, Susan tells her that it was eight months ago that Will had gone off to join the war. Rose tells Susan that maybe she can somehow find out what happens to Will by accessing records available during her own time.

Back in her own time, Rose learns that her Uncle and cousins are going on a short trip to the city but she and her Aunt will stay behind because her Aunt is pregnant. Rose essentially sneaks into the car so that she can join her cousins on their trip because she must go to the museum in town and learn more about what happened to Will. When she gets into town and is discovered, her Uncle is upset and disappointed that she would be so sneaky. Rose visits the museum and learns that the museum's records don't have much information about Will except for when he conscripted. When they return home, Rose's Aunt is very upset and thinks that Rose is a very selfish and difficult child. Her Aunt ends up fainting from exhausting herself. Her cousins get mad at Rose for causing so much drama in the house. Upset and feeling really bad about what she's done, Rose flees back into the root cellar.

When Rose re-emerges back in time, she finds out that Susan had been waiting for her, hoping that she would make her appearance because there still hasn't been any word of Will and whether he's alright. Rose tells Susan she wasn't able to find any records in the future that tell what happened to Will, either. She decides that the only thing to do is for her and Susan to travel across Lake Ontario to find more information. Rose pretends to be a boy so that she can travel with Susan and provide some sort of protection for her. At the fort on the other side of Lake Ontario, Susan and Rose find out that no one there knows where Will might be. There are rumors that he may have joined another regimen during one of the nearby battles. The girls find out that Will may even be in Washington. Everyone thinks that they should go home and wait out the war in safety however the girls are determined to find Will, so they take a train to New York.

The train ride to New York is full of unknown dangers, especially for Susan who's never left her own country-life before. Rose, who's more comfortable in the bustling crowds takes charge however the two are accosted by a drunk man and they run off their train to escape him. Susan realizes too late that she left her purse with their train tickets on the train. Rose is angry at Susan but eventually forgives her and they both decide to go by foot to New York. They walk by foot for weeks, taking up odd jobs at the villages they pass so that they can earn enough money for food and lodging. Rose lands herself a job working the bellows at a smithy however her new boss refuses to pay her fairly for her job so she runs away, after stealing some of his money. She reunites with Rose and they continue along their way, better off now that they have a bit more money for food.

The girls, now seasoned travelers, finally make it to fort Washington where soldiers are everywhere and free black people as well. They find lodging and spend the week checking all the hospitals in Washington to look for Will. The girls can't find anyone alive that matches the description of Will and so they think they may have to check the graveyard. Just when they've given up and are filled with sadness at the thought of Will being killed in the War, a thin man appears who turns out to be Will. Will is gaunt and aged-looking and he has come to realize that he's tired of fighting in the war. Susan wants him to go home but Will can't see himself going back to how his life was before. Rose eventually convinces Will to come home with her and Susan by reminding him of the golden days when he was a kid.

Will, Susan and Rose make their way back home however, on the boat ride across Lake Ontario, they are caught in a storm and they just barely make it. Rose is filled with some sort of urgency that she must return home, soon. Will and Susan brave the storm to get her back to the root cellar. The root cellar is flooded but Rose holds her breath and goes in. When she re-emerges, she is back in her own time where a storm is raging, as well. Rose returns to her house and apologizes to her Aunt for her behavior. Soon after reconciling with her Aunt, there is a loud crash and Rose finds out that the Hawthorn tree in their yard has toppled over onto the roof of the house due to the severity of the storm. Rose is devastated as this means she can never go back to Susan and Will's time.

The months pass and Christmastime arrives. Rose now gets along much better with her new family. She decides to cook them up a Christmas feast but because she doesn't know much about cooking ends up with burnt food. She's nervous to let everyone into the house for Christmas dinner because she's embarrassed about her failure but when everyone enters the kitchen, they see a feast laid out before them. Rose wonders if somehow Susan had made the dinner for them. After the dinner, Rose lingers by the fireplace and wonders aloud how she can return Susan's dinnerware to her. She is surprised when Mrs. Morissay, the ghostly lady she met that first day so long ago responds. Mrs. Morissay tells Rose that she's Susan and that she ended up marrying Will and that they lived together for many happy years. The story ends with Rose kissing Susan's old wrinkled cheek before the vision disappears.
Best part of story, including ending: I like that this story followed the lives of Will and Susan as they grew up and gave a glimpse into how life was like back in the 1800s. I like that Rose kept popping up in Will and Susan's life every so often and we, the readers, got to see Will and Susan's life beginning when they were children to when they fell in love and, finally, to when Susan reunites with Will after the war. It was also an interesting to see Rose having to adjust to the rural life, especially because she's used to living the life of a rich "brat" in New York city.

Best scene in story: My favorite scene was when Rose helps Will remember the golden days of his childhood by asking him to play a cheerful tune on his flute. The tune was something he wrote for Rose when he was just a little boy. I like this scene because it was very touching and also made me feel slightly sad that Will had changed so much from the care-free young boy he was to a world-weary, hardened and desolate-looking young man after the war.

Opinion about the main character: I like that Rose, despite being a spoiled brat at the beginning of the story, was willing to change and become a more genial and nice person. There were many instances in the story where Rose reacted badly and hurt Susan's feelings, however, I admired that Rose was able to let go of her pride and apologize to Susan so that they could mend their friendship.

The review of this Book prepared by Sharon C. a Level 12 Black-Throated Green Warbler scholar

Chapter Analysis of The Root Cellar

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Plot & Themes

Tone of book?    -   upbeat Time/era of story    -   1600-1899 Is this an adult or child's book?    -   Adult or Young Adult Book War/Revolt/Disaster on civilians    -   Yes Conflict:    -   War, Civil

Main Character

Gender    -   Female Profession/status:    -   student Age:    -   a teen Ethnicity/Nationality    -   Canadian (Aboot!)


How much descriptions of surroundings?    -   6 () City?    -   Yes City:    -   New York Misc setting    -   fancy mansion

Writing Style

Amount of dialog    -   roughly even amounts of descript and dialog

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Janet Lunn Books Note: the views expressed here are only those of the reviewer(s).
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