Home School Book Review
, September 16, 2012
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Ten-year-old Portia Blake and her six-year-old brother Foster are riding a train all by themselves on their way to spend their summer vacation with their Uncle Jake, Aunt Hilda, and cousin Julian Jarman. The Blake parents normally go with them, but Mother and Father will be in Europe until August. The Jarmans have recently purchased a house in the country, so Julian and Portia spend their days exploring, while Foster finds a similarly-aged friend in the Jarman’s neighbor Davey Gayson to play with. One day the older kids discover an abandoned Victorian resort community next to a bog. It’s like a ghost town. They learn that it used to be called Tarrigo Lake, but after the lake dried up, the homes were abandoned and it became known as Gone-Away Lake. They might even be able to use one for a clubhouse, so they decide to keep it a secret just between the two of them, at least for a while.
However, as the two explore, they hear a loud, booming voice coming out from one of the houses. It turns out to be a radio, and they learn that the old village has not been completely abandoned. Elderly siblings Mr. Pindar Payton and Mrs. Lionel Alexis (Minnehaha) Cheever have returned and still live there. But who are they? And can they be trusted? I really liked this book. I found it interesting that on one website, out of 76 reader reviews, 61, the vast majority, gave the book five stars, whereas five gave it one star. Those who did not like the book had two complaints. The first was that it has no plot and is too boring. I guess that this doesn’t surprise me coming from children, and adults with the attention span of children, who have been raised on half-hour television sitcoms, video games, and the inanity of Harry Potter. The second complaint was that it is “way too happy,” that it is just “nice people enjoying each other's company and having fun,” that it doesn’t have enough problems and conflict. My, my! I guess there must be more of a market for morbid, depressing children’s literature than I would have thought. I’ll take “happy” any day, thank you. The only thing that I don’t like about the Scholastic edition that I bought used is the very modern (i.e., 1980-ish) cover illustration.
The book won a 1958 Newbery Honor award for author Elizabeth Enright, who already had a Newbery Medal for her 1938 Thimble Summer. Gone-Away Lake is a charming story. I especially appreciate the way that family is portrayed. “Aunt Hilda was Portia’s third favorite woman in the world. First came her mother, naturally, and after that came Miss Hempel, her English teacher” (p. 22). The only downside is that there is a lot of common euphemisms (gosh, heck, gee, golly, doggone it, confounded, darn, and darnation), and some instances of pipe smoking occur. Most people will not have much of a problem with either of these things, but some parents would probably like to know them ahead of time. In addition to a pleasant plot with its gentle humor, the stories told by Mrs. Cheever and Mr. Payton about the days when the bog was a lake, which are interspersed with the modern-day adventures of Portia and Julian, illustrate how important the past is, even to children. One reviewer called it an “Odd story” that “may seem dated but it has an almost out-of-time quality that makes it accessible to modern readers.” There is a sequel, Return to Gone-Away, published in 1961, in which the Blake family buys and restores a house at Gone-Away.