Middle Grade Classics: Gone-Away Lake


Title: Gone-Away Lake
Author: Elizabeth Enright; read by Colleen Delany
Publication Info: 2005, Listen and Live Audio. Originally published in 1957 by Harcourt, Brace & World, 180 pages.
Source: Library digital resources

Publisher's Blurb:

Portia always expects summer to be a special time. But she couldn't imagine the adventure she and her cousin Julian would share this summer. It all starts when they discover Gone-Away Lake--a village of deserted old houses on a muddy overgrown swamp.

"It's a ghost town" Julian says. But the cousins are in for a bigger surprise. Someone is living in one of those spooky-looking old houses.

My Review:  

Just for fun, I have to start by sharing some of the historic covers for this one (one of the delights of old kids' books is seeing how the covers changed through the publication history).

This one was the original. It feels very 1950s to me--much like the covers of books I got in school a decade later.

1989 saw a bit of an update:

Another publisher in 1990 went for a different look:

Okay, enough of that! Just wanted to share. What about the story?

Gone-Away Lake surprised me at first with how equal the two kids seem. For most of the book, Portia is a tomboy after my own heart, and the inequalities in the relationship come from an age difference, not gender. That was how it was for my brothers and me growing up: what I couldn't or didn't do had little to do with being a girl, and a lot to do with being a lot smaller (only 3.5 years younger, but a lot smaller). Sadly, when other boys are girls are added to the mix, all of the kids fall right into standard gender roles. That might make sense in one way, but I would have expected Portia to feel some regret or resentment. Not a deal-breaker, but just a reflection of my own bias :)

Many kids reading today might be surprised by the freedom the kids have, but I remember doing that kind of roaming as a kid, so I think it's in keeping with the period. It certainly solves the problem sometimes referred to as the "Dead Parents Society"--the need to get parents out of the way so kids can have agency, that leads to so many books with dead or disfunctional parents. These kids can have their adventures without parental interference because they are allowed to.

What about the story? Well, in some ways the story doesn't really go anywhere. It's a tale of a rather delightful summer that's a bit more special than most. There's a bit of an arc, in the discovery and development of the abandoned community and the surprising residents, but really--I felt like it was primarily a celebration of a summer of freedom to explore the world and do what kids (should) do. It also contains a certain nostalgia for a still older time, the early 1900s when the lake was a lake and the summer homes were full of families.

The point of view is mostly Portia's, but does shift at times to Julian, and a few times to Portia's little brother Foster and even to some of the adults. I guess that makes it a classic omniscient viewpoint. The shifts are not head-hopping and happen appropriately.

And the audio? Very good. I remember almost nothing of it, which means the narrator achieved the transparency that is probably one step down from the very best (when the narration can really add value).

My Recommendation:

Honestly, I don't know if today's kids would like this or not. I'd say it's aimed at the 10-12 range, around Portia's age, and equally appealing to boys and girls. City kids might be mystified, or might become very dissatisfied with their own constrained lives. So watch out!

FTC Disclosure: I checked Gone-Away Lake out of my library, and received nothing from the writer or publisher for my honest review. The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."  


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