“Standing Stone,” by Patrick Egan, is a young-adult novel about French immigrants in Pennsylvania.
Having fled the Reign of Terror, Marie Colbert and her 12-year-old son, Alain, arrive in Philadelphia in 1793. They soon join other French émigrés in a journey up the Delaware River to Azylum, a French settlement northwest of Philadelphia.
It is in Azylum that young Alain matures — experiencing the violence of post-colonial America, hearing the legends of the Native Americans and the camp-fire stories of hunters, as well as exploring the countryside and his own heart with his friend, Clarice.
But mostly this coming-of-age story is about Alain’s strained relationship with his father, who had stayed behind in Paris. For reasons that are not immediately clear, a rough frontiersman named Gaspard tells Alain that his father acted dishonorably in Paris, which causes Alain to doubt his own memory of his father and his mother’s assurance of his goodness.
When his father finally arrives in Azylum, the question of his loyalty is not answered quickly. Instead, he acts mysteriously, as if he has something to hide, even from his family.
Which, of course, he does. King Louis XVII, who was in exile from 1791 to 1824, is in Pennsylvania, and royalist Mr. Colbert is involved in his travel and safety. Mr. Colbert is dedicated to protecting Louis from people like Gaspard, who are ready to bring the French revolution’s violence to America.
Slowly, the pieces are put together, and Alain gains both knowledge and sorrow.
Stone reminds young readers of European conditions that drove people to the nation newly formed from the 13 English colonies. It provides insights into the difficulties of travel and conflicts with Native Americans. Focusing on French royalists, rather than rebellious colonists of the same era, gives another slice of American history.
Egan, who lives in Rainbow Lake, has written an interesting, episodic novel successfully targeted at a young audience.