Travis Jonker (aka @100scopenotes) shared recently shared a post on the School Library Journal website listing 2015 books written by past Newbery winners. (If you haven’t checked out this list yet, do so after reading this post.) One of the covers that immediately caught my eye was “Enchantment Lake”. It was dark and mysterious, yet attractive to the eye. I also recognized the author, Margi Preus, from the Newbery Honor book “The Heart of a Samurai”.
It was exciting to see the title on NetGalley and even more exciting when I got approved to read it! Unfortunately, that’s about where the excitement ended. As I read, I kept feeling like this was the second book in a series, and that I was missing references made by the characters and the author. The main character, Francie, is seventeen and living on her own in New York. Her father died under mysterious circumstances, and nobody will give her any information about her mother. Again, I felt like I something was going over my head that I was supposed to have learned in a previous installment. Seeing as this is a mystery story, I’ll try to give you a summary without including any spoilers.
After receiving a panicked call from her aunts in Minnesota, Francie immediately packs her bags and makes the long trip there from New York. When she arrives, she learns that her “crazy” aunts are in no immediate danger, though the residents of the lake where they live are not so lucky. So many of them have died of what at first appear to be freak accidents. But Francie’s aunts aren’t convinced, and they ask her to look into the suspicious happenings at Enchantment Lake.
She’s not a real detective by any means, but because she played one on t.v. as a child, people just assume she is. Francie takes advantage of those assumptions and starts looking into who would want to bump off owners of lakeside property. She interviews and interrogates everybody she comes in contact with, and starts to narrow down the list of suspects. The victims were impeding progress on a proposed road that would have made the lake more accessible, and refused to sell their property. Francie starts to wonder if perhaps her father’s death might not have been an accident after all.
The investigation becomes personal when Francie’s aunts are thrown in jail for murder. They’re accused of killing the town’s real estate agent, one of Francie’s leading suspects, with a poisoned casserole. Now Francie is especially motivated to find the real killer.
One of her leads takes her to a nearby island, but when she goes to leave, she notices her kayak is missing. She tries to lay low and wait for someone to send help, but that becomes problematic when the island is set on fire and spreads rapidly. Francie has no choice but to get into the boat of someone she thinks may be a killer. Before they get very far, the boat starts taking on water. Someone has sabotaged their only means of escape.
The climax of the story brings together an unusual group of characters, and the villain confesses to the treachery that’s been happening at Enchantment Lake. In the resolution, everyone who’s still alive has a happy ending and gets together to celebrate their victory.
So many aspects of this book just felt weird to me. While Francie bumbles through the case and “solves” it in the end, many of the other mysteries go unresolved, the biggest one being her parents. She gets no closer to figuring out the circumstances behind her father’s death, and nobody in the town, or even in her family, have given her any information about her mother. I found that frustrating as a reader, so I imagine that Francie would be extremely irritated. In the end, the mystery of the murderer was solved, but there were a lot of unanswered questions still lingering.
There were also way too many times where something happened that felt too convenient, or when Francie blew something off that I suspected should have been more important. One example of a convenient coincidence was when Francie tried to hire a lawyer for her aunts, but he was out of town fishing for the week. The lawyer’s assistant, a handsome young boy about Francie’s age, ended up being her sidekick and rescued her from the predicaments she got herself into. This, in turn, developed into somewhat of a love story, though thankfully it’s not the kind of swoony teenage romance that you may usually encounter in books.
I had a few other issues, but another sticking point for me was that I couldn’t pin down what age group this book would be most appropriate for. The main character is seventeen, but I don’t see that this book would be appealing to older teens, unless maybe they were looking for a quick read. And though I think it may be suitable for middle grade readers, there is smoking, drinking, and, obviously, murder in the story.
This definitely does seem to be the first book in a series, so I’m definitely interested to see where the author goes with this. I think readers of this book would be pleased to have the opportunity to learn about Francie’s father and why, exactly, is everyone so secretive about her mother? For me, that was the REAL mystery. Hopefully we’ll have the chance to find out!
Author: Margi Preus (Connect with her on Twitter: @MargiPreus)
Publisher: Univ of Minnesota Press
Publish Date: March 11, 2015
You might also enjoy: “The Boundless” By Kenneth Oppel
My recommended age range: 7th-8th