Shadow Child: An Apprenticeship in Love and Loss


308 pages
ISBN 0-670-87798-0
DDC 362.1'98392'0092




Reviewed by Patricia Morley

Patricia Morley is professor emerita of English and Canadian Studies at
Concordia University and an avid outdoor recreationist. She is also the
author of The Mountain Is Moving: Japanese Women’s Lives, Kurlek, and
Margaret Laurence: The Long Journey Hom


Shadow Child is an autobiography of sorts, a “moving meditation”
(the editor’s phrase) on love and loss as the writer seeks to find a
way into and through her past and present. Beth Powning married young
and moved from New York State to a farm in New Brunswick, where her
husband established a potting studio. From the age of 10, Powning saw
herself as a writer. She struggles to fulfil this self-image, resisting
“the empty-handed devastation of not being good enough” when stories
come back with impersonal rejection slips: “It is me, I think, who has
been rejected: my voice, my soul, who I am.”

At 24, she becomes pregnant, bears a full-term still-born boy, and
several years later gives birth to a healthy son. As Jacob grows, the
lost child begins to haunt her dreams and waking hours. Jacob, “the
product of a generation that flaunted Question Authority bumper stickers
until its children became teen-agers,” becomes rebellious.

Jacob’s defiance makes his mother wonder if he is objecting to the
same faults that made her first baby “decide not to be born.”
Besieged, she finds an ally in Aaron, Jacob’s friend. After a neighbor
loses a baby, Beth relives her own loss and seeks psychiatric help.
Powning eventually recognizes and accepts the fact that grief and love
are inseparable. Shadow Child is a beautiful exploration of love, pain,
reclamation, and affirmation.


Powning, Beth., “Shadow Child: An Apprenticeship in Love and Loss,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 17, 2022,