Monday, February 18, 2008

Elizabeth Enright

Gone-Away Lake
Return to Gone-Away

by Elizabeth Enright
Recommended Age: 10+

Enright, who died in the 1960s after winning a Newbery medal (for Thimble Summer in the thirties), came close a second time: Gone-Away Lake was a Newbery Honor Book in the late 1950s. Together with its sequel, Return to Gone-Away, it's the kind of book you are sorry to finish reading. I felt as though I had taken leave of beloved friends and a beautiful place where I would have liked to linger awhile.

The main characters are a 10- or 11-year-old girl named Portia and her slightly older boy cousin, Julian, whose family Portia goes to visit during the summers with her 6- or 7-year-old brother Foster. The boys are all boy, the girls are all girl, but somehow Portia and Julian manage to be best friends and to spend a lot of time together, chasing butterflies and collecting rocks and identifying flowers and trees and so on.

By accident they come across an a little ghost town--a little lakeside resort that was abandoned 50 years ago when the lake, well, "went away." An elderly brother and sister still live there, or rather, moved back in after many years away, since it was their childhood summer stomping grounds. And in between adventures exploring the swamp, setting up a clubhouse (and a club), and just being carefree kids, Julian and Portia and Foster and friends also enjoy the hospitality and reminiscing of these kindly oldsters, whom they come to call Uncle Pindar and Aunt Minnehaha. (Charming, eh?)

There is a little bit of hair-raising adventure--for instance, little Foster nearly gets sucked into a deadly bog called "the Gulper," and some of the kids get goosebumps exploring a "haunted house"--but mainly it's just a depiction of happy, carefree days enjoyed by kids who really know how to enjoy them. In the second book, restoring and exploring an old rundown house near Gone-Away Lake is a central part of the action.

Loaded with comedy, with bits of mystery and spookiness and nostalgia and history and natural beauty and human warmth scattered liberally here and there, here's a couple of books that I think you'll want to come back to more than once.

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