Rereading: GONE-AWAY LAKE and RETURN TO GONE-AWAY by Elizabeth Enright

Covers and interior illustrations by Beth and Joe Krush

Elizabeth Enright was one of my favorite authors as a child, and I still love her books. I continue to find them beautifully written, clever, funny, and full of surprises. One thing that impresses me more now than it did back then is her knowledge of nature: plants, animals, birds, insects, all are described from the viewpoint of careful observation and accurate detail. Her handling of people is just as good.

These two books take place mostly during summer vacations for Portia Blake and her little brother Foster. They travel by train about 100 miles from their home in New York City to stay with an aunt and uncle and cousin Julian in a rural small town. Julian is a collector of many things, and a nature lover, and Portia and he get along well. Foster fortunately has a friend his own age to play with.

One day while out hiking in the woods, Julian and Portia discover an amazing forgotten place that was once a summer resort beside a lake, but then the lake drained away leaving a marsh, and soon all the vacation homes were abandoned and left empty. This happened about 50 years before the story takes place, around 1900. Two children who spent their summers at this idyllic lake resort quietly returned there in old age to live, having no better place to go. They’ve renovated two of the old Victorian houses that are in the best condition, and enjoy life as neighbors and companions, raising and harvesting some food themselves, gardening and keeping up parts of the old resort. They’re Minnehaha Cheever and her brother Pindar, who have slipped back to the days of their childhood, wearing the antique clothes stored in the houses, and with an equally antique automobile that allows Pindar to get to the nearest town for supplies they need. When Portia and Julian meet them, a fast friendship is begun, and the children learn many interesting things about Gone-Away Lake, as it’s now called, including dangers like the quicksand trap called The Gulper. The elders tell them many stories about their childhood, and the children explore the abandoned houses. Foster eventually finds his way to the place the older children have kept secret, and gets into trouble, paving the way for adults in the family to learn about and become friends with the Cheevers too.

In the second book, Portia and Foster’s parents have bought one of the abandoned houses from the state, the only one that was never broken into by scavengers, and everyone works on exploring it, cleaning it, and gradually restoring it to a new life as a summer home for the Blakes. Many more adventures are had, many more stories are told, and a treasure is eventually found.

Highly recommended, along with Enright’s other books like those about The Melendy Family.

Gone-Away Lake by Elizabeth Enright

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