Gone-Away Lake by Elizabeth Enright

Gone-Away Lake is such a great summer read, with the same kind of vacation-delight feeling as books like Jeanne Birdsall’s “Penderwicks” series, though Gone-Away Lake predates those by several decades. Portia and her younger brother Foster always go to visit their cousin Julian and their Aunt Hilda and Uncle Jake in the summertime, but the summer in which this book takes place is different: Hilda and Jake and Julian have moved from a rented house in a small town to their own place that’s deeper in the countryside. This is exciting for everyone, especially for Julian, who loves catching caterpillars and butterflies and exploring in the woods. One day while Portia and Julian are exploring together, they find a swamp that used to be a lake, lined with falling-down houses that used to be vacation homes. But not all of the houses are totally in disrepair, and two of them, it turns out, actually have people living in them: Portia and Julian meet Minnehaha (Min) and Pindar (Pin), a pair of elderly siblings whose family used to summer there back when it was a lake called Tarrigo, before the building of a dam in 1903 started turning it into a swamp. The book is about the everyday summer experiences of the kids and their new friends, with some stories of summers past (from when Min and Pin were children) thrown in for good measure; there isn’t a ton of conflict or excitement, though there are a few moments of adventure/danger, but it’s all beautifully described. I love how Elizabeth Enright describes the natural world—flowers and birds and summer light, and also how she describes the details of the houses and their contents (old rugs and old dolls, a moth-eaten stuffed moose head, and more): I love sentences and phrases like this:

The hedges are tree-high by now and all bound up with honeysuckle and poison ivy and wild grape. (46)

Or this:

So the month moved slowly in all its gold toward September. (213)

Or this:

The trees and thickets whistled with starlings, and swallows arranged themselves on telegraph wires like the notes in a stave of difficult music. (222)

I also love Beth and Joe Krush’s illustrations, whether they’re of an overstuffed living room or the lush plant-life of the swamp.






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