"Gone-Away Lake" - Elizabeth Enright

The book chosen to review today was based on a patron request - an older children’s book - “Gone-Away Lake” by Elizabeth Enright. It was a fun book to read and because of its age (published in 1957), there were many words and phrases that are no longer familiar. For example, "I cannot fathom" could be translated to “IDK” in today’s lingo.

Eleven year-old Portia Blake and her younger brother Foster visit their only-child cousin Julian Jarman every summer, and this year they convince their parents that they are old enough to travel by train on their own. Portia loves playing in the woods, looking for bugs, and just playing games with her cousin. This summer, though, turns out not to be the normal summer vacation; it is filled with amazing adventures and wonderful people. As Portia and Julian are hiking and collecting bugs, they find a large stone with an inscription. What does it mean and who could have carved it? They walk a little further and see a row of abandoned houses, a ghost town, and decide that the swamp they were tramping through used to be a lake and these houses were once beautiful mansions which are now falling apart, overgrown with vines, and infested with birds, bats, mice, moths, hornets, and mosquitoes.

As they approach one of the houses, the kids meet a small, thin old lady wearing very weird clothes - an old-fashioned fancy silk dress with a high lace collar - with white curly hair and eyeglasses fastened to a chain. Mrs. Cheever introduces them to her brother who lives in one of the other abandoned homes along the lake and then he drives them home in his Machine so they don’t have to travel back through the dangerous swamp.

The kids go back every day and are able to clean up and turn one of the houses into an awesome clubhouse. Furnishings, carpets, paintings and an old moose head are all added to their space, taken from the dilapidated houses. This is their secret until one day Portia’s brother quietly follows them to find out where they go every day and gets stuck in the swamp’s quicksand. Since their secret is now public, Julian and Portia gather a few friends and help Mrs. Cheever’s brother build a bridge over the swamp to the island house, which has been closed for over 50 years. What are the secrets of this old house?

This is a wonderful story about family, relationships, and a quieter time when children could play outside all day without supervision. The author has wonderfully clear descriptions of clothing, surroundings, nature, and people. The illustrations are very detailed, bringing the words to life. After reading this story, check out the sequel, “Return to Gone-Away”. Both of these books can be found in the J-Fiction section of the library and “Gone-Away Lake” is also available as an Audiobook.

-Bianca, Roswell Public Library, New MexicoGoneAwayLake