Review: Enchantment Lake by Margi Preus
Adolescence is the time in our lives when we search. We have to uncover who we are and who we want to be. YA literature often approaches this topic in a more symbolic than literal manner. Young characters go on physical quests to solve a problem, but, more often than not, these heroes and heroines find something bigger than they could have imagined. They come of age. This realization of self is what drives Margi Preus’s latest novel, Enchantment Lake: A Northwoods Mystery.
Enchantment Lake has the appearance of a YA mystery. Francie, a 17-year-old aspiring actress, lives in New York City. She’s alone and waiting for her big break. Suddenly she gets a phone call from her elderly aunts, Astrid and Jeannette, who beg her to “come quickly.” The summoning is enough to get our protagonist to Enchantment Lake in Minnesota in a hurry. When Francie arrives, she realizes that people are mysteriously dropping dead like flies. Is she to solve the crimes?
Enchantment Lake spends much of its time trying to get readers interested in the murders that Francie is set to solve, but the killing spree is the least interesting part of Preus’s novel. In fact, the killings nearly cause the rest of the story to come off as a silly gimmick. And, speaking of lightness, the humor here is off. There is an ongoing joke that everyone in Minnesota believes Francie to be some kind of mega-celebrity detective. I never got it—not the first time or the 100th. When Francie first talks to her aunts, she believes they are saying, “Someone is frying two grilled auks.” They are actually saying, “Someone is trying to kill us.” While Francie’s age firmly establishes Enchantment Lake as a YA book, many of the book’s sensibilities remind me of a middle-grade work.
There are more odd inclusions. We have undeveloped (and unknown) characters dying from weird snakebites and being squashed by falling tree limbs. Few of the deaths add any impact to the novel’s conclusion. They have one device: to give Francie action.
All of the energetic jolts could go undone. What makes Enchantment Lake a worthy read is the quiet development of Francie. At the novel’s beginning, Francie is a lonely, 17-year-old aspiring actress. Really, she’s lost. When she arrives back in Minnesota, she undergoes a dramatic transformation: “Tonight, she felt loved, and those feelings made a big warm circle around her.“ Yes, she does have some new comfort, but she needs to know about her parents. How did her father really die? What happened to her mom?
Francie questions her identity because she doesn’t know enough about her past. She asks herself, “How could you not know anything about your own mother?” Then, again, she asks, “But how could you know who you were—or who you were supposed to be—if you didn’t know your own mother?”
As the novel reaches its ending, Francie develops. She uncovers secrets. She makes friends. She learns about her past—and her future. The murders and mysteries want to be the main attraction, but the internal journey of Francie is Enchantment Lake’s hidden treasure.