Summer at Forsaken Lake by Michael D. Biel, illustrated by Maggie Kneen, 329 pp, RL 4
I love reading a really good summer vacation story during the summer months because it almost makes me feel like I am getting a summer vacation again. In fact, I love this theme so much that I even created the Summer Stories and Summer Camp Stories labels to single these books. Last summer, Gone-Away Lake and Return to Gone-Away Lake were newly discovered classics and instant favorites for summer reads. This summer, it is definitely Summer at Forsaken Lake by Michael Biel, author of the Red Blazer Girls mysteries. New in paperback, this story of sailing, siblings and secrets is filled with characters you will love, adventure at sea and a realistic mystery that you could imagine kids really being able to solve. Also, Summer at Forsaken Lake employs one of my favorite devices in a kid's book - including a real work of literature as part of the plot! Arthur Ransom, author of the Swallows and Amazons, a twelve book series begun in 1930 and considered to be classic British children's literature. Set in the Lake District of England, Ransome's series follows the Walker children and their adventures. In book seven in the series, We Didn't Mean to Go to Sea, the Walkers are invited to sail down the river on the Goblin after helping its owner out of a tight spot. When he rows to shore in the dinghy named Imp and the anchor breaks free, the children find themselves alone at sea, thus the title. Threads of themes from We Didn't Mean to Go to Sea are woven through the pages of Summer at Forsaken Lake and, from what I read, I definitely want to check out Ransome's books for more summer reading.
Summer at Forsaken Lake begins with twelve-year old Nicholas Mettleson and his ten-year-old twin sisters Hetty and Hayley leaving New York City to spend the summer with their father's uncle Nick on the shores of Forsaken Lake in Deming, Ohio. Nicholas's parents, recently divorced, decided to send the siblings to Uncle Nick's while Dr. Will Mettleson makes his annual trip to Africa to work with Doctors without Borders. Will used to spend summers with Uncle Nick and was even building his own boat, but something happened when he was fourteen and he never returned and never even talked about his time at Forsaken Lake with his kids. Thus, when Nicholas, Hetty and Hayley arrive they have no idea what to expect or even what kind of summer they are in for. One thing that I especially like about Summer at Forsaken Lake are the parallel stories that Biel tells here - the experiences of the Mettlesons as they explore Forsaken Lake and the mystery that they uncover. City kids in the country, Uncle Nick, despite the fact that he lost an arm decades ago, is the perfect guardian for these three. A sailor, woodworker, pitching coach and all around outdoorsman, the first thing Nick does with the three is take them to the library when a summer storm scuttles their first visit to the lake. But, it's Nick's tattered old copy of We Didn't Mean to Go to Sea that grabs the attention of the twins, especially Hetty, who prefers to watch TV. As the girls dig into the book, they realize that Uncle Nick's sailboat, the Goblin, which he built from "keel to masthead" himself shares the same name as the boat that the Swallow children accidentally head out to sea in. Over the course of the summer, Uncle Nick teaches Nicholas how to ride a bike, how to hit a curveball and how to build a boat after he discovers his father's half-finished boat in the barn.
The mystery woven into the plot of Summer at Forsaken Lake begins almost the minute Nicholas sets his bags down in his room for the summer - the tower room that "jutted up through the middle of the house as if somebody had set a greenhouse on the roof, and could be reached only by climbing a tightly wound, vertigo-inducing spiral staircase." Goofing around reveals a secret panel behind which Nicholas finds a tattered old notebook, a film canister with The Seaweed Strangler written on one side and an intricately folded note. With the help of Charlie (Charlotte) Brennan, neighbor and daughter of two of his father's best friends during his childhood summers in Deming, the two slowly begin to piece together the twenty-five year old details in the notebook and on the film - an unfinished movie, cut short when Franny, Charlie's mom, was injured during filming - to discover the truth behind the events that ended friendships and more. In the end, Nicholas and Charlie find themselves with some weighty decisions to make, ultimately realizing that there can sometimes be a difference between telling the truth and doing what's right. Beil ties together the two plot threads beautifully and even opens some possibilities for a second summer at Forsaken Lake, which I am definitely looking forward to!
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Source: Review Copy