Sheer magic

The other night, I fell in love with two kids named Portia and Julian.  They’re cousins and just happen to discover this lake that is no more, the wonderful, old, abandoned houses that surround it, and two quirky siblings that can’t quite let go of the past.

And as I was reading, I kept trying to figure out how I could write about it here.  Because it is so different from what I’ve been writing about, and it feels too soon to go off-roading in this blog.  And then I thought, well, the book is definitely set in the 1950s and published in 1957, so it fits there.  But there really aren’t that many details about life in the 1950s.  (Though I did love the little brother that was constantly playing space explorer–very 1950s!) And then I realized: at its heart, Gone-Away Lake by Elizabeth Enright is all about appreciating and loving the past.  And isn’t that what kidlit history is all about?

For me, this read as one of my ultimate wish fulfillment books.  If I had read this as a child (rather than a 30-year-old well in touch with her inner child), I know I would have read it to pieces.  Two cousins are out exploring during their summer when they discover a swamp, surrounded by abandoned houses.  It was once a lake-side vacation spot for the wealthy, and now are ruins.  Even better, they meet two siblings, Minnehaha and Pindar who grew up there and returned as adults.  The story is magical and delightful and just funny.  The kids seem so real.

But the part that thrills the history nerd in me is their love of the old houses and the stuff inside them.  And they love the old-fashioned quirks of Minnehaha and Pindar.  These characters could have so easily become carciatures–Min in her ancient clothing and Pin with his Machine.  There is no “this old stuff is awful”  They don’t make fun of any of it–they embrace it and love it and make it better.  And they find such cool things–the antique/junk hunter in me was very jealous.  Can you imagine going through a attic filled of stuff that hasn’t been touched in decades? 

All of their adventures and their care in restoring a piece of it makes history very cool.  It’s all a big adventure!  It seems like often history or old stuff is usually looked down on in children’s books (I still get upset that the history teacher at Hogwarts is a ghost.  Like wizard history wouldn’t be the coolest thing ever?)  And though I don’t think readers will learn much history by reading Gone-Away Lake, I think they will appreciate it much more.  And that makes me very, very happy.

Of course, what I really want to do is find my very own Gone-Away Lake.  With a Villa Caprice to buy, restore and love.  Anyone want to help me search?

9 thoughts on “Sheer magic

  1. You need to read Return to Gone-Away as well. I’ve recommended them to a home schooled family at the library and the mom told me that when she was reading the first one her son, 10, said that they can’t have adventures like that anymore. Sad comment, but when I read them at age 11 or 12, I knew that I couldn’t have adventures like that either. I lived in Texas back then and laughed when Portia said that metors fall in Texas and Siberia and places like that!

  2. I’ve ordered Return to Gone-Away from the library, so I should get it soon.

    I had the same thought that adventures like this were no longer possible. It’s hard to think of any undiscovered pocket of the US that once had life like that. I know there are urban explorers who break into abandoned buildings or old sewers and check them out, but that just does have the same romance.

  3. Yes, if you loved the undiscovered attic/junk hunter aspect of Gone-Away, you’re going to go into ecstasies over Return to Gone-Away. But I’ve never had that feeling of not being able to have adventures like that–I mean, this particular one, sure; but I feel like I get a taste of it every time I open a box at my grandparents’ houses and find things like my mom’s old school papers or an ancient knitting pattern.

    I always wished I had a cousin my age to be friends with. Laurie had TWO of them.

  4. I loved this books as a child and enjoy reading them as an adult. If you love the Gone Away series, you should read her series about the Melendy family…begining with The Saturdays, followed by The Four Story Mistake, Then There Were Five, and Spider Web for Two. Also magical….kids, dogs, adventure…and old houses.

  5. I just reread Gone Away and Return to Gone Away. All of your comments mirror my feelings exactly. I agree with Pat – you must try The Saturdays! I still get a feeling on Saturday that I should do something special. And oh how I wanted to live in a house with a usable attic…

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  8. Gone-Away Lake and Return to Gone-Away are my two favorite children’s books. I loved them as a kid, read them to my children, and will begin reading them to my grandchildren in the next year or so. I re-read them every January–I curl up on the couch under an afghan, while our 30 below zero winter rages outside, and escape into that wonderful world and summer.

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