October 28, 2012

31 Days of Awesome Kids' Books: Gone-Away Lake

My mom came down to play with Eleanor for a few hours last week, so that I could get some packing done. She kept listing all these classic kids' books that I hadn't included in this series. I explained that I'd purposely chosen a few classics, and a few modern books, and a few randoms from the library, because I didn't want the series to turn into "the awesome books Jessica read in the late 1980s". (Although, now that I think about it, maybe I will do that series next year).

Anyway, she was jokingly indignant that I hadn't included the Melendys. Unfortunately I'd already packed those. But, as I was packing, I'd set Gone-Away Lake aside, because I was thinking I'd like to reread it. To avoid disappointing my mother, I read it in a hurry, and now I'm sharing it with you! Sorry mom, no Melendys. But at least Elizabeth Enright is represented, and I promise that as soon as we unpack I'll do The Saturdays or The Four-Story Mistake or something!

Every year eleven-year-old Portia Blake and her six-and-a-half year old brother Foster go to spend the summer with their aunt, uncle, and cousin Julian out in the country. This year, there's a neighbor boy named Davey who's the perfect age to play with Foster, so Portia and Julian go adventuring a lot. They pass through the words, and stumble upon a strange marshy area, with abandoned rowboats and rickety, falling-down mansions surrounding it. Inhabiting the decrepit houses are two old people: a brother and sister named Pindar and Minnehaha, who explain to the children that back in the 1890s this was Tarrago Lake - a popular summer resort for some wealthy families. But a dam was built in the early 1900s, and the lake disappeared, leaving behind the swamp.

Portia and Julian cannot resist the lure of Gone-Away Lake, and the amazing stories that "Uncle Pin" and "Aunt Min" tell about their long-ago childhood. They keep going back every day, and even turn the attic of one of the old houses into their clubhouse. At first they try and keep it all a secret, but Foster follows them one day and figures things out, and then they invite all their other friends and family members along. Thus begins an idyllic summer for everyone at Gone-Away Lake.

This book is gorgeously written - I made a note of just a few of the many evocative scenes and sentences that stood out to me.
"Cats, like most children, do not care to hear themselves discussed. Fatly now rose to his full height, arched himself like a croquet wicket, and dropped heavily to the floor. He stalked from the room, his collar-bell tinkling."
"In the first place it was pleasant to occupy a house in which nobody ever told you to pick anything up. Just because of this, now and then they did pick things up; now and then they even used a broom....Another nice thing was to eat your lunch...without anyone telling you to eat your crusts. Now and then because they were so hungry, they did eat their crusts."
 It's such a wonderful book - beautifully written, with likeable, intelligent children as the main characters, and Minnehaha and Pindar's stories of the 'gay nineties' setting a lovely background to the tale. I highly recommend this book, and anything else Elizabeth Enright has ever written.

I think, since all my books are now packed, I may even snag the sequel, Return to Gone-Away, at the library next week.

Have you read Elizabeth Enright?

Rating: 5 out of 5
Recommended age: 8 and up

This post is day 28 of my 31 Days of Awesome Kids' Books.
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